Puffins are one of the most beloved birds among children and adults alike. From their small size to their almost clownlike appearance, it’s no wonder these birds are a must-see for bird lovers and tourists.
While their unique appearance is their signature trait, there is much more to puffins than meets the eye. Curious to learn more? Here are 5 interesting puffin facts to help you get to know this quirky little seabird.
Puffins Are Impressive Swimmers
Puffins are excellent swimmers, flapping their wings as if they’re flying underwater and using their little webbed feet as rudders to catch fish. These little divers can hold their breath underwater for up to 30 seconds and can dive down up to 200 feet in that short period before returning to the surface for air.
Their Bills Change Color Throughout The Year
The puffin’s bright orange bill is a well-known identifier of the species. However, you might be surprised to see a dull, grey-looking beak if you spot these little birds during the winter. Their signature vibrant orange beak and matching feet only appear in the spring during their mating season. Once the season is over, they shed their outer bills until the following year.
They Rarely Change Mates
While puffins don’t mate for life like their penguin lookalikes, they are often monogamous with the same partner over their lifetime, sometimes 20 years! Every year, puffins return to the same nesting area and will recouple with their mate. The female lays a single egg, and both parents take turns incubating it and raising their puffling over the summer.
Over Half of The Puffin Population Breeds in Iceland
Iceland is the chosen breeding ground for 60% of the world’s puffin population. The rest can be found among the rocky shores along the North Atlantic Ocean including areas of Greenland, eastern Canada, and as far south as Maine. The rocky Maine coast is home to nearly 1500 breeding puffin pairs, with Machias Seal Island being among the best locations in Maine for seabird observation.
Puffins Have Specialized Beaks to Help Them Fish
Puffins may only weigh in around 1lb, but these little carnivorous seabirds need to eat about 40 small fish per day to stay healthy. They also need to feed their young pufflings, who rely entirely on their parents for food. To help them catch fish, puffins have unique barbs on their pallet called denticles that help keep the fish in place while they continue to hunt for more. They use their spiny tongues to pierce the fish against their denticles, making it possible to bring back an average of 10 fish per trip. One impressive puffin was spotted in Britain, flying with 62 fish in its bill at once!
Get More Puffin Facts!
At the Friends of Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, we’ve made it our mission to protect Maine’s seabirds and coastal habitats through our conservation efforts and educational programs. Come visit us at the Maine Coastal Islands Visitor Center to learn more about these great seabirds and take a look at our new art gallery featuring the works of some talented local artists.
Want to see some puffins on your next visit to Maine? Check out our guide on where to see puffins on the Maine coast.