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Puffin facts

Everything You Need to Know About Puffins

Posted on 7 Feb 2022

Puffins are a cute, yet uniquely shaped creature adored by millions of people around the world. Is it this bird's innocent look which captures the heart? Or is it their extraordinary behaviour? Either way, we have 12 unique puffin facts which can expand your understanding of these wild birds.

12 Puffin Facts Everyone Should Know

Puffins Spend Two-Thirds of the Year at Sea

For eight months of the year, puffins live on the ocean, happily bobbing up and down on the waves. These pint-sized birds are well adapted to sea life and enjoy devouring fish. When the warmer spring weather arrives, they head to land for breeding – usually around May to August.

Where Can You See Them?

In Scotland, your best chance to see puffins is on our tours in Staffa or Orkney. May to August is their breeding season, but unfortunately, we can’t guarantee you’ll see them. Wild animals are unpredictable. You can also see them on Skomer Island off the coast of Wales and the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. Outside of the UK, you can visit Iceland as they can be found on all coasts north, south, east and west. A puffin paradise.

These Birds' Beauty Fades During the Winter

Unfortunately for puffins, their unique good looks fade away during the cooler months. One of their most distinct features, the brightly coloured parrot-like beak, loses its technicolour in winter. But when breeding season starts on land, their vibrant appearance returns in time for them to attract a mate.

Puffin Landing

Puffins Can Often be Referred to as Mini Flying Penguins

Besides being black and white, these birds share more similarities with penguins. They both only have one egg per year. And males and females take turns incubating the egg and raising their young. Both species also choose just one mate for life.

These Birds Can Fly Underwater

The sky isn’t the limit for puffins. They’ve mastered both flying in the air and swimming underwater. It’s common for them to swim up to 60 metres under the surface while hunting for fish.

Nicknamed the ‘Clowns of the Sea’

Ever wondered how these birds got this nickname? Partly because of their colourful faces, but mostly for their flying skills. More specifically, their landing and take-offs. Once in the air, they’re skilled pilots and flap their wings an impressive 400 times a minute. They can even reach speeds of 80 kmph.

However, because of their wing size in relation to their overall weight and shape, their take-offs and landings are hilariously inelegant. If you ever need cheered up, perch on a clifftop and revel in the sight of face-plants, tumbles and skids from these clumsy aviators.

Also Known as ‘Sea Parrots’

People also call puffins Sea Parrots because of their tropical-coloured beaks.

Puffins Even Have the Nickname Arctic Monks

Their unusual Latin name, Fratercula arctica, translates to Arctic Monks. Back in the old days people must have thought their black feathers resembled a monk’s robe.

two puffins on a rocky cliff edge in Scotland

60% of These Birds Breed in Iceland

Love is in the air in Iceland. Well, at least two-thirds of puffins decide to breed there anyway. We’re not sure if it’s the cool climate or gorgeous scenery that attracts them, but we do know that most Atlantic Puffins choose the coastline and islands around Iceland for courtship. It’s estimated that there are between 8 and 10 million puffins in Iceland’s colony.

Puffins Mistakenly Have Silver Whiskers

Commonly mistaken for silver whiskers or a dapper moustache, you’ll often see multiple fish hanging out of a puffin’s mouth. Unlike many birds which regurgitate their food for their young, puffins carry up to ten fish in their mouths back to the burrow. These skilful hunters use their spiny tongues to press the fish against the roof of their mouths, securing the catch until they get back to their hungry chicks.

Silent Until Breeding Season

Puffins are silent at sea. But during the breeding season on land, males tilt their head back and give a piglike grunt to charm a female. And once in their breeding burrows, their growl resembles a muted toy chainsaw.

three puffins stood in a line on a grass path

Are Puffins Endangered?

Puffins are not technically classed as endangered, but they have been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Meaning we need to protect and cherish our puffins if they are to continue to survive.

Examples of threats against these birds:

  • In 1967, an oil spill killed 85% of the French puffins
  • Right now, sea bird trophy hunting tours around Iceland have contributed to a 23% decline in the number of puffins in just a decade

Puffin breeding populations are concentrated in a small number of sites which means changes in fish populations or invasive species can wipe out entire colonies.
Perhaps the largest threat is the rising sea temperature. This reduces the amount of plankton in the ocean which in turn decimates the small fish puffins eat.
So as always, eat sustainably and tread lightly wherever you go to help save these beautiful birds. You can learn more about how you can help our puffins’ plight at the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Save Puffins.

Trying to See Puffins on a Rabbie’s Tour

While seeing puffins is never guaranteed on one of our tours, we will always try our best. If travelling within the UK, Scotland and Ireland tours are where you should consider if these birds are on your sightseeing list. Hop on board one of our luxury 16-seat mini-coaches and prepare to take in the beautiful sights. With Rabbie’s, you have the pleasure of a small group tour led by knowledgeable driver-guides. Not sure where to explore first? Sign up to our newsletter where you can be first to know about new departure locations and tours.

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