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Atlantic Puffin

Atlantic Puffin

Overview
The Atlantic Puffin is a seabird
Seabird
Seabirds are birds that have adapted to life within the marine environment. While seabirds vary greatly in lifestyle, behaviour and physiology, they often exhibit striking convergent evolution, as the same environmental problems and feeding niches have resulted in similar adaptations...

 species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 in the auk
Auk
An auk is a bird of the family Alcidae in the order Charadriiformes. Auks are superficially similar to penguins due to their black-and-white colours, their upright posture and some of their habits...

 family
Family (biology)
In biological classification, family is* a taxonomic rank. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species, with family fitting between order and genus. As for the other well-known ranks, there is the option of an immediately lower rank, indicated by the...

. It is a pelagic bird that feeds primarily by diving for fish, but also eats other sea creatures, such as squid
Squid
Squid are cephalopods of the order Teuthida, which comprises around 300 species. Like all other cephalopods, squid have a distinct head, bilateral symmetry, a mantle, and arms. Squid, like cuttlefish, have eight arms arranged in pairs and two, usually longer, tentacles...

 and crustacean
Crustacean
Crustaceans form a very large group of arthropods, usually treated as a subphylum, which includes such familiar animals as crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, krill and barnacles. The 50,000 described species range in size from Stygotantulus stocki at , to the Japanese spider crab with a leg span...

s. Its most obvious characteristic during the breeding season is its brightly coloured bill. Also known as the Common Puffin, it is the only puffin
Puffin
Puffins are any of three small species of auk in the bird genus Fratercula with a brightly coloured beak during the breeding season. These are pelagic seabirds that feed primarily by diving in the water. They breed in large colonies on coastal cliffs or offshore islands, nesting in crevices among...

 species which is found in the Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

. The curious appearance of the bird, with its large colourful bill and its striking piebald plumage, has given rise to nicknames such as '"clown of the ocean" and "sea parrot".
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Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
The Atlantic Puffin is a seabird
Seabird
Seabirds are birds that have adapted to life within the marine environment. While seabirds vary greatly in lifestyle, behaviour and physiology, they often exhibit striking convergent evolution, as the same environmental problems and feeding niches have resulted in similar adaptations...

 species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 in the auk
Auk
An auk is a bird of the family Alcidae in the order Charadriiformes. Auks are superficially similar to penguins due to their black-and-white colours, their upright posture and some of their habits...

 family
Family (biology)
In biological classification, family is* a taxonomic rank. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species, with family fitting between order and genus. As for the other well-known ranks, there is the option of an immediately lower rank, indicated by the...

. It is a pelagic bird that feeds primarily by diving for fish, but also eats other sea creatures, such as squid
Squid
Squid are cephalopods of the order Teuthida, which comprises around 300 species. Like all other cephalopods, squid have a distinct head, bilateral symmetry, a mantle, and arms. Squid, like cuttlefish, have eight arms arranged in pairs and two, usually longer, tentacles...

 and crustacean
Crustacean
Crustaceans form a very large group of arthropods, usually treated as a subphylum, which includes such familiar animals as crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, krill and barnacles. The 50,000 described species range in size from Stygotantulus stocki at , to the Japanese spider crab with a leg span...

s. Its most obvious characteristic during the breeding season is its brightly coloured bill. Also known as the Common Puffin, it is the only puffin
Puffin
Puffins are any of three small species of auk in the bird genus Fratercula with a brightly coloured beak during the breeding season. These are pelagic seabirds that feed primarily by diving in the water. They breed in large colonies on coastal cliffs or offshore islands, nesting in crevices among...

 species which is found in the Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

. The curious appearance of the bird, with its large colourful bill and its striking piebald plumage, has given rise to nicknames such as '"clown of the ocean" and "sea parrot". The Atlantic Puffin is the provincial bird for the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador is the easternmost province of Canada. Situated in the country's Atlantic region, it incorporates the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador with a combined area of . As of April 2011, the province's estimated population is 508,400...

.

Description


The Atlantic Puffin is 26–29 cm (10.2–11.4 ) in length (bill
Beak
The beak, bill or rostrum is an external anatomical structure of birds which is used for eating and for grooming, manipulating objects, killing prey, fighting, probing for food, courtship and feeding young...

 3–4 cm), with a 47–63 cm (18.5–24.8 ) wingspan. The male is generally slightly larger than the female, but they are coloured alike. This bird is mainly black above and white below, with grey to white cheeks and red-orange legs. The bill is large and triangular and during the breeding season is bright orange with a patch of blue bordered by yellow at the rear. The characteristic bright orange bill plates grow before the breeding season and are shed after breeding. The bills are used in courtship rituals, such as the pair tapping their bills together. During flight, it appears to have grey round underwings and a white body; it has a direct flight low over the water. The related Horned Puffin
Horned Puffin
The Horned Puffin is an auk, similar in appearance to the Atlantic Puffin; this bird's bill is yellow at the base and red at the tip. It is a pelagic seabird that feeds primarily by diving for fish. It nests in colonies, often with other auks.The yellow bill plate grows before the breeding...

 (Fratercula corniculata) from the North Pacific looks very similar but has slightly different head ornaments.

The Atlantic Puffin is typically silent at sea, except for soft purring sounds it sometimes makes in flight. At the breeding colonies
Bird colony
A bird colony is a large congregation of individuals of one or more species of bird that nest or roost in close proximity at a particular location. Many kinds of birds are known to congregate in groups of varying size; a congregation of nesting birds is called a breeding colony...

, its commonest call is a trisyllabic kaa-aar-aar and the birds make a short growl when startled.

Distribution and ecology



This species breeds on the coasts of northern Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, the Faroe Islands
Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands are an island group situated between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, approximately halfway between Scotland and Iceland. The Faroe Islands are a self-governing territory within the Kingdom of Denmark, along with Denmark proper and Greenland...

, Iceland
Iceland
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...

 and eastern North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

, from well within the Arctic Circle
Arctic Circle
The Arctic Circle is one of the five major circles of latitude that mark maps of the Earth. For Epoch 2011, it is the parallel of latitude that runs north of the Equator....

 to northern France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and Maine
Maine
Maine is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and south, New Hampshire to the west, and the Canadian provinces of Quebec to the northwest and New Brunswick to the northeast. Maine is both the northernmost and easternmost...

. The winter months are spent at sea far from land - in Europe as far south as the Mediterranean, and in North America to North Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...

.

About 95% of the Atlantic puffins in North America breed around Newfoundland's coastlines. The largest puffin colony in the western Atlantic (estimated at more than 260,000 pairs) can be found at the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve
Witless Bay Ecological Reserve
Witless Bay Ecological Reserve is an ecological preserve close to St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.The Witless Bay Ecological Reserve consists of four islands: Gull Island, Green Island, Great Island, and Pee Pee Island...

, south of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
St. John's is the capital and largest city in Newfoundland and Labrador, and is the oldest English-founded city in North America. It is located on the eastern tip of the Avalon Peninsula on the island of Newfoundland. With a population of 192,326 as of July 1, 2010, the St...

.

Puffin viewing has also started to become popular in Elliston Newfoundland, previously named Bird Island Cove, located near Trinity. Here, puffins have been known to be tame enough to get even 2 or 3 feet away from them.

Predators of the Atlantic Puffin include the Great Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
The Great Black-backed Gull is the largest gull in the world, which breeds on the European and North American coasts and islands of the North Atlantic...

 (Larus marinus), the Great Skua
Great Skua
The Great Skua, Stercorarius skua, is a large seabird in the skua family Stercorariidae. In Britain, it is sometimes known by the name Bonxie, a Shetland name of unknown origin.-Description:...

 (Stercorarius skua), and similar-sized species, which can catch a puffin in flight, or pick off one separated from the colony. Smaller gull species like the Herring Gull (L. argentatus) which are hardly able to bring down a healthy adult puffin, take eggs or recently hatched chicks, and will also steal fish.

Diet


Feeding areas are often located 100 km (60 mi) or more, offshore from the nest sites  — although when provisioning young the birds venture out only half that distance. Atlantic Puffins can dive to depths of up to 70 m (200 ft
Foot
The foot is an anatomical structure found in many vertebrates. It is the terminal portion of a limb which bears weight and allows locomotion. In many animals with feet, the foot is a separate organ at the terminal part of the leg made up of one or more segments or bones, generally including claws...

) and are propelled through the water by their powerful wings, which are adapted for swimming; the webbed feet are used as a rudder while submerged. When hunting, Puffins may collect several small fish, such as herring
Herring
Herring is an oily fish of the genus Clupea, found in the shallow, temperate waters of the North Pacific and the North Atlantic oceans, including the Baltic Sea. Three species of Clupea are recognized. The main taxa, the Atlantic herring and the Pacific herring may each be divided into subspecies...

, sprats and sand eel
Sand Eel
Sand eel or sandeel is the common name used for a considerable number of species of fish. Most of them are sea fish of the genera Hyperoplus , Gymnammodytes or Ammodytes...

s, zooplankton
Zooplankton
Zooplankton are heterotrophic plankton. Plankton are organisms drifting in oceans, seas, and bodies of fresh water. The word "zooplankton" is derived from the Greek zoon , meaning "animal", and , meaning "wanderer" or "drifter"...

, crustacean
Crustacean
Crustaceans form a very large group of arthropods, usually treated as a subphylum, which includes such familiar animals as crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, krill and barnacles. The 50,000 described species range in size from Stygotantulus stocki at , to the Japanese spider crab with a leg span...

s and mollusks. The tongue is used to hold the fish against spines in the palate, leaving the bill free to open to catch more fish. The fish, which may number up to twelve, are held in the bill with the heads facing in alternate directions.

Reproduction


The Atlantic Puffin is sexually mature at the age of 4–5 years; the species is monogamous
Monogamy
Monogamy /Gr. μονός+γάμος - one+marriage/ a form of marriage in which an individual has only one spouse at any one time. In current usage monogamy often refers to having one sexual partner irrespective of marriage or reproduction...

 and gives biparental care. They are colonial nesters, excavating burrows on grassy cliffs — they will also nest amongst rocks and scree. The species can face competition from other burrow nesting animals such as Rabbits, Manx Shearwater
Manx Shearwater
The Manx Shearwater is a medium-sized shearwater in the seabird family Procellariidae. The scientific name of this species records a name shift: Manx Shearwaters were called Manks Puffins in the 17th century. Puffin is an Anglo-Norman word for the cured carcasses of nestling shearwaters...

s and occasionally Razorbill
Razorbill
The Razorbill is colonial seabird that will only come to land in order to breed. It is the largest living member of the Auk family. This agile bird will choose only one partner for life and females will lay one egg per year. Razorbills will nest along coastal cliffs in enclosed or slightly exposed...

s. Male puffins perform most of the work of excavating or clearing out the nest area, which is sometimes lined with plants, feathers or seaweed. The only time spent on land is to nest; mates are found prior to arriving at the colonies, and mating takes place at sea.
A single-egg clutch is produced each year, and incubation responsibilities are shared between both parents. Total incubation time is around 39–45 days, and the chick takes about 49 days to fledge. At fledging, the chick leaves the burrow unaccompanied, usually during the evening, and flies or swims out to sea. Contrary to popular belief, young puffins are not abandoned by their parents (although this does occur in some other seabirds, such as shearwaters). Synchronous laying of eggs is found in Atlantic Puffins in adjacent burrows.

The eyes and beak of the male have a special appearance, acquired in the spring, during the breeding season. At the close of the breeding season, these special coatings and appendages drop off in a molt.

Relationship with humans




Hunting


The population of these birds was greatly reduced in the nineteenth century, when they were hunted for meat and eggs. Atlantic Puffins are still hunted and eaten, but the effect of this on populations is insignificant compared to other threats. On the Faroe Islands, for example, the birds may be hunted for local consumption after the breeding season, when excess birds are available.

Status and conservation


More recent population declines may have been due to increased predation by gulls and skua
Skua
The skuas are a group of seabirds with about seven species forming the family Stercorariidae and the genus Stercorarius. The three smaller skuas are called jaegers in North America....

s, the introduction of rats, cats, dogs and foxes onto some islands used for nesting, contamination by toxic residues, drowning in fishing nets, declining food supplies, and climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

.

On the island of Lundy
Lundy
Lundy is the largest island in the Bristol Channel, lying off the coast of Devon, England, approximately one third of the distance across the channel between England and Wales. It measures about at its widest. Lundy gives its name to a British sea area and is one of the islands of England.As of...

 the number has decreased dramatically in recent years (the 2005 breeding population was estimated to be only two or three pairs) as a consequence of depredations by black rats
Black Rat
The black rat is a common long-tailed rodent of the genus Rattus in the subfamily Murinae . The species originated in tropical Asia and spread through the Near East in Roman times before reaching Europe by the 1st century and spreading with Europeans across the world.-Taxonomy:The black rat was...

 (recently eliminated) and possibly also as a result of commercial fishing for sand eels, the puffins' principal prey.

On the other hand, puffin numbers increased considerably in the late twentieth century in the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

, including on the Isle of May
Isle of May
The Isle of May is located in the north of the outer Firth of Forth, approximately off the coast of mainland Scotland. It is 1.8 km long and less than half a kilometre wide...

 and the Farne Islands
Farne Islands
The Farne Islands are a group of islands off the coast of Northumberland, England. There are between 15 and 20 or more islands depending on the state of the tide. They are scattered about 2.5–7.5 km distant from the mainland, divided into two groups, the Inner Group and the Outer Group...

. Numbers have been increasing by about 10% per year in recent years. In the 2006 breeding season, about 68,000 pairs were counted on the Isle of May. However, Iceland has many times as many breeding pairs with the Puffin ( lundi in Icelandic) the most populous bird on the island. In 2008 declines were reported in the Farne Islands and Isle of May colonies.

Reintroduction projects have taken place on a number of islands, including one on the coast of Maine titled Project Puffin
Project Puffin
Dr. Stephen W. Kress of the National Audubon Society started Project Puffin in 1973 in an effort to learn how to restore puffins to historic nesting islands in the Gulf of Maine. At that time, literally all the puffin eggs in Maine were located on two small islands — Matinicus Rock and Machias Seal...

, and these have given local boosts to some Puffin populations.

Since the Atlantic Puffin spends its winters on the open ocean, it is susceptible to human impacts such as oil spills. If an accidental oil spill occurs and pelagic birds are exposed, toxins are inhaled or ingested which leads to kidney and liver damage. This damage can contribute to a loss of reproductive success and damage to developing embryos. Oil spills may also have indirect effects. The Atlantic Puffin and other pelagic birds are excellent bioindicators of the environment because they are near the top of the food chain in the ocean. Since the primary food source for Atlantic Puffins is fish, there is a great potential to bioaccumulate heavy metals from the environment. Heavy metals enter the environment through oil spill
Oil spill
An oil spill is the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment, especially marine areas, due to human activity, and is a form of pollution. The term is mostly used to describe marine oil spills, where oil is released into the ocean or coastal waters...

s — such as the Prestige oil spill
Prestige oil spill
The Prestige oil spill was an oil spill off the coast of Galicia caused by the sinking of an oil tanker in 2002. The spill polluted thousands of kilometers of coastline and more than one thousand beaches on the Spanish, French and Portuguese coast, as well as causing great harm to the local fishing...

 on the Galician coast — or from other natural or anthropogenic sources
Pollution
Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into a natural environment that causes instability, disorder, harm or discomfort to the ecosystem i.e. physical systems or living organisms. Pollution can take the form of chemical substances or energy, such as noise, heat or light...

. In order to determine the effects on pelagic birds such as the Atlantic Puffin, quantifiable measurements must be taken. In the field, scientists obtain contaminant measurements from eggs, feathers or internal organs.

Since the Atlantic Puffin gets the majority of its food by diving, it is important that there is an ample supply of resources and food. Different environmental conditions such as tidal cycle, upwellings and downwellings contribute to this abundance. In a study published in 2005 it was observed that Atlantic Puffins were associated with areas of well-mixed water below the surface. This study implies consequences for the species if global warming
Global warming
Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and its projected continuation. In the last 100 years, Earth's average surface temperature increased by about with about two thirds of the increase occurring over just the last three decades...

 leads to an alteration of tidal cycles. If these cycles are modified too much it is probable that the Atlantic Puffin will have a difficult time locating food resources. Another consequence of an increase in temperature could be a reduction in the range of the Atlantic Puffin, as it is only able to live in cool conditions and does not fare overly well if it has to nest in barren, rocky places, and an increase in temperature could thus squeeze the zone of puffin-suitable habitat as warmer biotopes expand from the equator but the polar regions remain barren due to lack of historical accumulation of topsoil.

SOS Puffin is a conservation project based from the Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick to save the puffins on islands in the Firth of Forth. Puffin numbers on the island of Craigleith, once one of the larest colonies in Scotland, with 28,000 pairs, have crashed to just a few thousand due to the invasion of a giant alien plant Tree Mallow, Lavatera arborea
Lavatera arborea
Lavatera arborea , the Tree Mallow, is a species of mallow native to the coasts of western Europe and the Mediterranean region, from the British Isles south to Algeria and Libya, and east to Greece.- Description :It is a shrubby annual, biennial or perennial plant growing to 0.5–2 m tall...

,
which has taken over the island and prevented the puffins from accessing their burrows and breeding. The project has the support of over 450 volunteers and progress is being made with puffins returning in numbers to breed this year.

In culture



The name puffin – puffed in the sense of swollen – was originally applied to the fatty salted meat of young birds of the unrelated species Manx Shearwater
Manx Shearwater
The Manx Shearwater is a medium-sized shearwater in the seabird family Procellariidae. The scientific name of this species records a name shift: Manx Shearwaters were called Manks Puffins in the 17th century. Puffin is an Anglo-Norman word for the cured carcasses of nestling shearwaters...

, Puffinus puffinus. Both species nest in burrows on off-shore islands and the name was applied to the meat of either and was formally applied to F. arctica by Pennant
Thomas Pennant
Thomas Pennant was a Welsh naturalist and antiquary.The Pennants were a Welsh gentry family from the parish of Whitford, Flintshire, who had built up a modest estate at Bychton by the seventeenth century...

 in 1768.

The scientific name comes from the Medieval Latin
Medieval Latin
Medieval Latin was the form of Latin used in the Middle Ages, primarily as a medium of scholarly exchange and as the liturgical language of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, but also as a language of science, literature, law, and administration. Despite the clerical origin of many of its authors,...

 fratercula, friar
Friar
A friar is a member of one of the mendicant orders.-Friars and monks:...

, and arctica, northern.

The Atlantic Puffin is the provincial bird of Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador is the easternmost province of Canada. Situated in the country's Atlantic region, it incorporates the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador with a combined area of . As of April 2011, the province's estimated population is 508,400...

. The Norwegian municipality of Værøy
Værøy
Værøy is an island and municipality in Nordland county, Norway. It is part of the Lofoten traditional region. The administrative centre of the municipality is the village of Sørland. Værøy was established as a municipality on 1 January 1838...

 has an Atlantic Puffin in its coat-of-arms. In August 2007, the Atlantic Puffin was proposed as the official symbol of the Liberal Party of Canada
Liberal Party of Canada
The Liberal Party of Canada , colloquially known as the Grits, is the oldest federally registered party in Canada. In the conventional political spectrum, the party sits between the centre and the centre-left. Historically the Liberal Party has positioned itself to the left of the Conservative...

 by its deputy leader Michael Ignatieff
Michael Ignatieff
Michael Grant Ignatieff is a Canadian author, academic and former politician. He was the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and Leader of the Official Opposition from 2008 until 2011...

, after he observed a colony of these birds and became fascinated by their behaviour.

The island of Lundy
Lundy
Lundy is the largest island in the Bristol Channel, lying off the coast of Devon, England, approximately one third of the distance across the channel between England and Wales. It measures about at its widest. Lundy gives its name to a British sea area and is one of the islands of England.As of...

's name is derived from the Norse lunde for the puffins that nest on the island. Puffins also appeared on the coins
COinS
ContextObjects in Spans, commonly abbreviated COinS, is a method to embed bibliographic metadata in the HTML code of web pages. This allows bibliographic software to publish machine-readable bibliographic items and client reference management software to retrieve bibliographic metadata. The...

 and stamps
Postage stamp
A postage stamp is a small piece of paper that is purchased and displayed on an item of mail as evidence of payment of postage. Typically, stamps are made from special paper, with a national designation and denomination on the face, and a gum adhesive on the reverse side...

of the island and a value expressed in 'Puffins'.

External links