6 Thing You Didn’t Know About Atlantic Puffins

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Facts about Puffins you didn't know! See why they are a crowd favorite!
Atlantic puffins, Langanes peninsula, Iceland

1. ATLANTIC PUFFINS SPEND MORE OF THEIR LIFE IN THE OCEAN, NOT ON LAND

Seeing an Atlantic Puffin near land is rare. You can’t really say what country or continent Puffins are from because they spend almost 9 months of their life out at sea, swimming around, diving, and searching for fish. They’re not a land animal, and the only time you’re likely to see an Atlantic Puffin near land is when they’re nesting. One of the best places to see Atlantic Puffins is in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, around the towns of Mobile Bay and Tors Cove Village. The Newfoundland town of Mobile is in the middle of the Witless Bay Marine Protected Zone and is the closest community that offers tours to Great Island, one of the largest Atlantic Puffin nesting areas in the world. Puffins nest here between late April and early August. The best way to view puffins is by signing up for a puffin and whale watching tour since the islands they nest on are off-shore. Daily whale watching and puffin viewing tours depart daily from the wharf at the end of the lane at Whale House Guest House and you can book your tickets directly at the guest house or from the ticket booth at the wharf (same price). If boat tours aren’t your thing you can still see puffins from the coastline of the Tinkers Point East Coast Trail hike and from the whale watching deck at Whale House, arguably one of the best places to view whales and puffins from land, but if you really want to get up close and personal, signing up for a boat tour is the way to go. Dates in peak season often sell out in advance, especially for small and medium-size operators since they offer small group experiences that can navigate shallower waters and go places larger vessels can’t.

PUFFIN FACT: Did you know Atlantic Puffin couples are lovers for life? They always keep the same mating partner, but they don’t spend time with their mate year round. Puffin couples meet up every year at their communal mating ground, make cute puffin babies, and spend the summer together before going off on their separate adventures for the rest of the year.

2: PUFFINS ARE BETTER AT SWIMMING THAN FLYING

If you see a Puffin flying you can’t help being amused. It’s kind of hilarious. Puffins can fly well but they do look a little awkward in the air. Underwater, however, it’s a different story. Below the surface, Puffins look like a torpedo. Just look up some footage on youtube, it’s super impressive. If you’re a diver or have had the opportunity to snorkel where puffins are feeding you already know exactly what we mean. Atlantic Puffins are most comfortable underwater and can dive up to 200 feet (that’s 33 fathoms) at speeds of 90 kilometers an hour. They use their wings to propel themselves and their feet to steer. They’re faster than fish and built for speed, so any awkwardness you see when they fly in the air is more than made up for with the grace and precision they exhibit underwater.

3. THE ATLANTIC PUFFIN’S COLOURFUL BEAK IS SEASONAL

Most people associate the Atlantic Puffin with a colourful beak, but their beak isn’t colourful year round. When feeding out on the ocean, puffins shed the colours of their brightly coloured beak as well as the black around their eyes. Odds are, if you see a puffin out at sea during the winter (which is rare since they live way offshore during this time) you probably won’t even recognize they’re a puffin. During this time they look mostly grey and blend in well in the water. Baby puffins are the same way, they’re all grey when they’re first born. It takes 40 to 45 days for a baby puffin to hatch and another few weeks for them to start developing colours. After 6 weeks, a baby puffin is fully developed and ready to take care of itself on its own.

PUFFIN FACT: How much does an Atlantic Puffin weigh? About as much as a can of Canadian ginger ale.

4: WATCH WHAT YOU TELL A PUFFIN, THEY HAVE VERY BIG MOUTHS

Puffin parents both take care of their babies and take turns hunting and bringing food back to the nest for their family. To make the job of hunting easier, puffins have specialized barbs and notches on their beak that let them hold onto fish that they’ve already caught, even when their mouth is open. This means puffins can easily stuff 10 or more fish into their mouth at one time. This gives puffins a huge advantage over other seabirds that have to return to their nest to feed their chicks each time they catch a fish.

5. PUFFINS ONLY LAY ONE EGG A YEAR

If you’re used to chickens or ducks, you might think puffins are also egg-laying machines. A single duck can lay 180 eggs a year, and chickens lay eggs on a near daily basis, but that’s not true for Atlantic puffins. Just like penguins, puffins only lay one egg a year per breeding pair. That means making sure the egg is healthy and hatches is a really big deal. This is part of the reason why puffins go to such great lengths to ensure their nest is safe from predators high on seacliffs, protected by an island surrounded by water, and usually buried a meter underground. If something happens to the egg, puffins won’t get a chance to make another baby until next year, making them a sensitive species, and making protecting puffin nesting grounds ever so important.

6: PUFFINS USE STARS TO NAVIGATE?

Did you know during your visit to the Witless Bay Marine Ecological Reserve you can get a chance to rescue a baby puffin? During the full moon and when there are bright lights on shore, baby puffins can get confused and fly towards shore instead of their island, getting stuck on local beaches, people’s backyards, and even roadways throughout Tors Cove Village, Mobile, and Witless Bay? Because puffins use stars to navigate, it’s easy to throw them off course and they often need help to get back on the right track. The Witless Bay puffin and petrel patrol is a volunteer organization in Witless Bay that helps rescue puffins that are lost and helpless. They collect them at night, put them in a temporary cage for the evening, and then release them offshore the following day. If you’ve always wanted to hold an Atlantic Puffin, getting involved with the Puffin and Petrel Patrol is an amazing opportunity, and one of the only organization we know of that does this kind of work. To find out more, check out our article about the Witless Bay Puffin Patrol.

Have you held an Atlantic Puffin before? Have you had a chance to experience these birds up close and personal? Tell us about your experience by posting in the comments below.

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Whale House Guest House offers luxury boutique private suites with outdoor hot tubs overlooking humpback whale feeding grounds. Located next to the east coast trail in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, just 30 min from downtown St. John’s.

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