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puffin Puffins

Identify It >   Birds Section >   Puffins >

Scientific name:  Fratercula arctica

Size:  Approx 27 to 32cm

Distribution:  Found all round the coast of Northern Ireland, most of the Scottish coast, parts of the north Devon and Cornish coast, the west coast of Wales, and many of the offshore islands

Months seen:  April to September.  Can be seen all year round at sea, but come ashore to have their chicks between March and August

Habitat:  Coastal areas especially around the offshore islands

Food:  Sand eels and other small fish

Life span:  Over 20 years

Special features:  North Atlantic Puffins are stocky seabirds with short wings, black backs and a white front.  In summer the head is black with a grey-white face.  The legs and feet are orange.

Puffins are probably our most colourful seabird.  In winter the bill is a dull orange and the face is black, but in summer the birds grow some horny plates on the beaks which are bright red, blue and yellow, and the 'gape' at each corner of the mouth turns bright yellow.  This distinctive colouring has earned it the nickname of 'sea parrot'.

In spring and early summer puffins come ashore to have their young.  They nest in burrows which they can dig themselves, or they may use an old rabbit burrow.  The nest is lined with feathers, grass and other soft items that the birds can find, like bits of sheep wool.  Just one egg is laid which takes about six weeks to hatch.

The chicks (pufflings) stays underground out of the sight of predators, while the parents go out to catch sand eels and small fish for the chick.  It takes about seven weeks before the chicks are ready to leave the burrow.  They usually leave the buurrow at night, and may not return to land again for five years, when they will be ready to breed themselves.

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