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Atlantic Puffin

The Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) is a species of seabird in the auk family. It is the only puffin native to the Atlantic Ocean. The striking appearance, large colorful bill, waddling gait and behavior of this bird have given rise to nicknames such as “clown of the sea” and “sea parrot”. The scientific name Fratercula comes from the Medieval Latin fratercula, friar, a reference to the black and white plumage which resembles monastic robes. The Atlantic puffin breeds in Iceland, Norway, Greenland, Newfoundland and many North Atlantic islands, and as far south as Maine in the west and the British Isles in the east. With a large population and a wide range, the species is not considered to be endangered, although there may be local declines in numbers. On land, it is awkward, but at sea, it swims on the surface and feeds mainly on small fish by diving underwater and using its wings for propulsion.

This puffin has a black crown and back, pale grey cheek patches and white underparts. Its broad, boldly marked red and black beak and orange legs contrast with its plumage. It molts while at sea in the winter during which its brightly colored facial characteristics are lost. Adult males and females are identical except that the male is slightly larger. Juveniles have similar plumage but their cheek patches are dark grey. Puffins from northern populations are typically larger than their counterparts in southern parts of the range.

Atlantic puffins spend the autumn and winter in the open ocean and return to coastal areas at the start of the spring breeding season. They nest in clifftop colonies, digging burrows in which a single egg is laid. The chick mostly feeds on fish and grows rapidly. After about six weeks it is fully fledged and makes its way at night to the sea. It swims away from the shore and does not return to land for several years. Colonies are mostly on islands where there are no terrestrial predators but adult birds and newly fledged chicks are at risk of attacks from the air by gulls and skuas.