Tufted Puffin

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Common Name: Tufted Puffin
Scientific Name: Fratercula cirrhata

Size: 15 inches (38 cm)

Habitat: North Pacific: British Columbia, throughout southeastern Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, Kamchatka, the Kuril Islands and throughout the Sea of Okhotsk. Winters south to Honshu and Northern California.

Status: Least Concern. Global Population: 3,500,000 mature individuals. Colonies fluctuate in size annually, based in part upon food supply and climatic events, such as El NiƱo. The Tufted Puffin is one of the most abundant and conspicuous seabirds nesting in the north Pacific. Many California populations, however, have disappeared or significantly declined. In recent years, potentially serious declines have occurred in Washington as well. Oil spills and gill-nets are threats to Tufted Puffins, as is human disturbance. In Washington, most breeding colonies are protected as wildlife refuges or are inaccessible to humans. Populations of large gulls, which prey on young puffins, have been increasing in Washington, which may account for some of the recent decline in numbers.

Diet: Small fish. They also eat crustaceans, mollusks, and cephalopods.

Nesting: Their most distinctive feature and namesake are the yellow tufts (Latin: cirri) that appear annually on birds of both sexes as the summer reproductive season approaches. Their feet become bright red and their face also becomes bright white in the summer. During the feeding season, the tufts molt off and the plumage, beak and legs lose much of their luster. Juvenile puffins resemble winter adults, but with a grey-brown breast, white belly, and a shallow, brown bill.

Breeding takes place on isolated islands: over 25,000 pairs have been recorded in a single colony off the coast of British Columbia.

Tufted Puffins probably form long-term pair bonds. They nest in burrows at the edges of cliffs, on grassy slopes, or in natural crevices in rocks. The pair spends a great deal of time preparing the nest site, excavating the burrow with their bills and feet. The burrow is 2-7 feet long with a nest chamber at the end. This chamber may be lined with grass or feathers, or sometimes nothing at all. Digging the nest burrow is a time-consuming job, and the birds most likely do not breed in the season in which they dig the burrow, but wait until the following year. When the pair finally breeds, the female lays one egg, which both parents incubate for 6-1/2 to 7-1/2 weeks. Both parents care for the young for another 6-7 weeks, after which time the fledgling leaves its burrow at night and moves to sea. Most young birds are not yet capable of flight at this time, so they walk, or flutter to sea, without parental aid.

Cool Facts: As among other alcids, the wings are relatively short, adapted for diving, underwater swimming and capturing prey rather than gliding, of which they are incapable. As a consequence, they have thick, dark myoglobin-rich breast muscles adapted for a fast and aerobically strenuous wing-beat cadence, which they can nonetheless maintain for long periods of time.

The Tufted Puffin can capture and hold multiple small fish crosswise in its bill, routinely 5 to 20 fish at a time, for delivery to chicks at the nest. Adults eat their own food while still under water.

The Aleut and Ainu people of the North Pacific traditionally hunted Tufted Puffin for food and feathers. Skins were used to make tough parkas worn feather side in and the silky tufts were sewn into ornamental work. Currently, harvesting of Tufted Puffin is illegal or discouraged throughout its range.

Tufted Puffins are preyed upon by various avian raptors such as Snowy Owls, Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons, and mammals like the Arctic Foxes. Foxes seem to prefer the puffin over other birds, making the bird a main target. Choosing inaccessible cliffs and entirely mammal-free islands protects them from terrestrial predators while laying eggs in burrows is effective in protecting them from egg-scavengers like gulls and ravens.

Found in Songbird ReMix Puffins

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