Atlantic Puffin Fact File


The Atlantic puffin is a short creature. Its face is white with a black stipe running along the bottom of the eye. Their bill is as tall as their face and is triangular in shape when viewed from the side. It is quite narrow across. During breeding season it is coloured orange-red near the head and slate grey near the tip with a yellow stripe in between.

On the face where the two portions of the beak join are yellow, wrinkled rosettes. This colouring develops in the spring and is shed at the end of the breeding season.

Shedding leads to it looking less bright and less broad. The top and back of the head is coloured black.

Along their back and the tail they are coloured black. There is also a black collar around the neck. Their underside is coloured white. Their large webbed feet are orange.

Male Atlantic puffins are slightly larger than females. On average they stand 20cm (8in) tall. Their wings are between 47 and 63cm (19-25in) across. They weigh 500g (17.5oz).


Atlantic puffins are carnivores. Most of their diet is fish with some shrimp, crustaceans, molluscs and polychaete worms also being taken on occasion.

Atlantic Puffin

Scientific Name

Fratercula arctica

Conservation Status



20cm (8in)


500g (17.5oz)


47-63cm (19-25in)


20 years



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Scientists have estimated that these birds need to eat about 40 fish a day. Achieving this by catching one fish at a time then returning to their burrow to eat would be difficult. To avoid this they have a grooved tongue which can hold up to a dozen fish in their beak while they continue fishing. Some small fish are swallowed while diving but the rest are brought to the surface for swallowing.

They are able to dive for up to a minute and may reach considerable depths during this time.

Their diet gives them large amounts of excess salt. To secrete this they have specialized salt glands in the nostrils along with the normal secretion through the kidneys.


Atlantic puffins are the only species of puffin to live on the Atlantic Ocean. The other three puffin species live on the Pacific Ocean. They are spread around the coast of Europe from Russia’s north-west to France and all around the UK coastline. They are found from the north-east of the US up into Canda and around the coast of Greenland. 60% of the world’s Atlantic puffins live in Iceland.


During the breeding season they roost on rocky cliff sides. Outside the breeding season the Atlantic puffins spend all their time at sea.


These monogamous birds lay their eggs from April. Before this a pair will meet up either at sea or at their nest from the year before. The burrow consists of a burrow dug into a rocky cliff top. Some will line this nest with grasses. On occasion they have been seen using the nests of rabbits. They set about repairing this by clearing it out.

It is unclear how puffins can return to the same place each year. Scientists have suggested visual reference points, smells, sounds, the stars or the Earth’s magnetic field.

When courting each other the puffins will tap their beaks together.

A single egg is laid. In the event this is lost early on in the breeding season they may produce another. Both parents participate in incubating the egg. On the underside are a pair of feather free brood patches that help to warm the eggs. Most of the time that parents spend incubating is spent sleeping.

After 39-45 days the egg hatches. From birth the parents will drop fish alongside the chick that they eat whole. At birth they average 42g (1.5oz). The parents will both spend time with it for the first few days with this decreasing as it grows. While in the nest chicks may spend time rearranging the nest or pulling at protruding roots. Chicks are referred to as pufflings.

34-50 days after the chick hatches it will fledge. Fledging may take longer if there is a food shortage that year. Until it is fledged the chick will not venture out of the burrow. In the last days before leaving the burrow the chick will shed its down and gets it juvenile plumage.

One night it will emerge and flap out to sea. At this point they can’t fly properly they descend the cliff and then paddle out to sea. It is two to three years before they make another journey back to land.

Sexual maturity is achieved at four to five years old.


Predators of the Atlantic puffin include black backed gulls, rats, cats, dogs and foxes. Species such as herring gulls will also prey upon eggs and steal fish from the puffins.

Vocalizations made by the Atlantic puffin include low purring noises, grunts and groans.

When taking off the puffin will flap vigorously across the surface of the water. When in flight they can reach speed of up to 88km/h (55 miles/ph). To achieve this they need to flap their wings 400 times a minute.

While at sea this species is solitary. While at sea they spend a lot of their time preening. Their preen gland secretes oil which keeps their underside dry and keeps them warm.

Quick facts

The Atlantic puffin is the official bird of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada.

Nicknames awarded to the Atlantic puffin include “clowns of the sea” and “sea parrots.”

Stamps used in Alderney, Canada, the Faroe Islands, France, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Iceland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, St Pierre et Miquelon and the United Kingdom have featured the Atlantic puffin.

On the Icelandic island of Heimaey the pufflings are often confused and fly into the town. The children of the island will collect them and release them to sea.

This bird was for formerly known as the common puffin.

Atlantic Puffin

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Atlantic Puffin

Photo Credits:


By Erik Christensen [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons


By Tony Wood (Puffin Collection #26 Uploaded by snowmanradio) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


By Steve Deger (Atlantic Puffins, Scotland) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


BirdLife International. 2018. Fratercula arctica. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T22694927A132581443. Downloaded on 30 November 2020.


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