I learned a lot about puffins today.  And I was amazed.  I had no idea how interesting this bird specie is.

PUFFIN (noun) definition and synonyms | Macmillan Dictionary

What triggered this new found interest was visiting – more accurately, getting close -– by boat to one of the islands off Iceland called Puffin Island.  The one I went to was in the very north of Iceland, just a 20 or so miles from the Artic Circle, which I saw as part of a whale watching expedition based out of Husavik.

This relatively small island i visited by boat houses 100,000 puffins in season.  I say in season because the puffins only stay here for at most 4 months each year, and then they migrate to other South Atlantic locations.  I was lucky to catch them just two weeks or so before they depart to warmer climates.

To put the 100,000 in perspective, there are estimated to be 50 million puffins worldwide.  20% or 10 million reside for part of the year in Iceland.  No other country has as many puffins in the summer than Iceland.

The puffins pick a partner and build holes in the side of the island. The holes are sometimes a foot or two deep with two rooms.  One room for sleeping and mating and one for a bathroom.  As a result you do not see bird droppings all over the island, as often is the case with other species of water related birds.

Amazingly, this nesting effort and this time on Puffin Island is the only time that they will be on land for the rest of the year.  They will spend their entire time after they leave Iceland on and in the water.

And are they productive in the water.  Wow!   They are excellent divers and can dive up to 60 meters or almost 200 feet deep.  They catch their fish with their beak.  Their beak is constructed so that they can actually retain up to six fish at a time before they come back up to the surface.  Somehow the fish get stuck in their beak while they continue to fish.  Crazy!

A Beginner's Guide to Icelandic Puffins - Play Iceland

It turns out that their wings are shorter than would be ideal for flying.  As a result they have to really work hard to get airborne and stay there.  They flap their wings at an amazing pace – 400 times per minute.  Nevertheless, they are able to get a good head of steam.  They can fly at 77 kilometers per hour, or about 45 mph.

I thought puffins were endangered.  And they may be in certain parts of the world.  Needless to say they are not endangered in Iceland.  In fact, you may find them on an occasional restaurant menu.

But, wow!  What an eyeopener for me today was.  I had been totally unaware of these amazing qualities of the puffin.  I thought they had an unusual beak and that they were cute looking.  I had no idea about any of the above.

Here is a trivia question for you.  what is a baby puffin called?


13 thoughts on “Puffins”

  1. A puffin baby is one subjecting everyone around it to second hand smoke eh!

    —-at least that’s what they told us when we visited Bird Island just off Bay Bulls Newfoundland.

  2. So interesting about the adult puffins and their young called pufflings?
    So glad you were again feeling up to some adventure?

  3. Neil – First, sorry to read about the bad flight experience. I’m sure that, had I made that trip, I would have been much worse off.
    As for the puffins, great write-up! I’ve never known you to take such a great interest in birds. Maybe my interest in birds and birding is rubbing off! We saw many puffins on our trip to Alaska in ’97. Puffins are beautiful, and it’s fun to learn more about them through this blog.

  4. We loved the puffins too. Spent an entire day in search of them, at tip of Westmann Islands, off southeast coast of Iceland. Take a ferry, and have a taxi take you to their nesting area. It’s an unforgettable adventure.

  5. Thank you for the wonderful write up on Puffins. You do make your adventures so interesting and your blog makes it as if one is there too.

  6. Neil, Glad you seem to be back on track after your harrowing experience yesterday.
    Love those little puffins, and thanks for all of those interesting facts about them!

  7. We just back from Alaska and saw lots of puffins while sea kayaking at Kenai Fjords. But I wasn’t aware of these facts about the cute little birds.

    Neil, I’m glad that watching puffins didn’t give you motion sickness — they move pretty fast.

  8. Your blog prompted me to explore further Puffins on the internet. Their markings are so distinctive, and the male and female look much the same, whereas with other bird cultures, the males are often glamorous in their plumage and the females not so much! You often bring a National Geographic flair to your blogs which is informative and interesting!

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