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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica

With its vividly marked bill, bright red feet, and red-and-black eye patches, this is the most colorful sea bird in the north Atlantic. Like other members of the auk family, the Atlantic puffin feeds by pursuing fish underwater, using its strong, stubby wings to swim.

In the air, it flies rapidly on fast-beating wings, skimming over the waves as it returns to its nest with food. Atlantic puffins breed in large clifftop colonies, digging burrows in coastal turf. The parents take turns incubating the single egg, and they both help to feed the developing nestling.

Instead of regurgitating food, as most sea birds do, they return with small fish held in their bills, carrying about six fish simultaneously, arranged alternately head to tail. Each Atlantic puffin nestling is fed continuously for about six weeks, after which the parents abandon it and head out to sea.

After going without food for several days, the young bird crawls out of the burrow and flutters down to the sea after dark. Puffins disperse out to sea in fall, when they lose the bright bill colors that make them so conspicuous during the summer months.

Atlantic Puffins Competing for Food

The Atlantic puffin population has fallen sharply of late, especially in the eastern Atlantic. This may be due to the growing fishery for sand eels, a fish that puffins rely on, especially in breeding season. Sand eels are used in fertilizers, animal foods, and as a source of edible oil.

Threats to Atlantic Puffins

Puffins eat only a few species of fish, of which capelin is a critical component.  In the northwest Atlantic, capelin is puffin’s preferred prey, sometimes accounting for up to 95 percent of its diet

Commercial capelin fisheries in Canada, Norway, Iceland and Russia pose a threat for Atlantic puffins. Capelin are mainly used for fish meal and oil industry products and only to a lesser extent for food. Like so many other species, including Atlantic cod, Atlantic puffins are competing with the fishery for its main food source.

What Oceana Does to Protect Atlantic Puffins

Oceana works to promote responsible fishing, conservative catch limits and protected hotspots for predators such as puffins. Ensuring that predators have enough food means protecting their prey from overfishing and conserving the ecosystem as a whole.

Act now to help us protect the world's oceans.

Atlantic Puffinzoom image
  • Order Charadriiformes
  • Length 11–12 in (28–30 cm)
  • Weight 14 oz (400 g)
  • Habitat Inshore waters, rocky coasts, open sea
  • Distribution North Atlantic, breeding north to Greenland and Svalbard
Atlantic Puffin habitat mapzoom image