Saturday, 2 February 2013

Atlantic Puffin


order : Charadriiformes      Genus & Species : Alcidae     Family : Fratercula arctica

The Atlantic puffin may seem irresistibly comic with its waddling walk and colorful, oversized bill, but it’s an efficient predator of fish even in rough seas. Even with up to ten fish in its bill, the Atlantic puffin can continue hunting and hold onto its large catch. They breeds in the Arctic and along North Atlantic and North Sea coasts, from the northeastern U.S. to northwestern France, Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia; moves south into offshore waters in winter. 


Habitat : The Atlantic puffin spends most of its life at sea, coming to land only to breed in clifftop or island colonies. In the breeding season, it occurs on inshore waters from the North Atlantic and North Sea north as far as the High Arctic. But in late summer, puffins drift south away from their colonies, which are deserted by September. From fall until early spring, they stray far out to deeper, offshore waters as far south as New Jersey, the western coast of Italy and the Canary Islands. The puffin shares nesting cliffs with other birds of its family, Alcidae, but doesn’t compete with them for nest sites as it’s the only one to use burrows high on the cliff. But in the Arctic, frozen ground prevents it from digging burrows, so it must resort to crevices in the cliff faces. 
Food & Feeding : At home on or below the surface of rough and calm seas, the puffin is a master swimmer. Diving from the surface, it can cover 150' horizontally in a single dive for fish. On other occasions, it dips its head under the water while trying to find a shoal of suitable prey. A relatively limited variety of small marine fish makes up the puffin’s diet, including sand eels, sprats, whitings and rocklings. Most of the fish it catches are less than 4" long, but fish width is a more important factor: the puffin prefers to feed on prey 1" thick so that it can line up as many as possible crosswise in its bill. Adult birds, especially in the Arctic, also feed on mollusks and crustaceans, particularly shrimp or planktonlike animals. 
Behavior : In common with most sociable, colony-nesting birds, the puffin evolved a complex “language” of calls, displays and other body gestures for communication. At sea, it indicates alarm by bobbing its head up and down; on land, it may growl menacingly. When landing at the colony after fishing, or walking through it, the puffin has a submissive pose to avoid fights with other birds. This involves bending its legs while tilting its head upward and raising its wings over its back. Nonetheless, excited squabbles between neighboring pairs are common and two puffins may grapple and twist each other with their bills, while uttering throaty calls, until they eventually pull apart. 
Breeding : After a display of head-shaking and bill-nibbling, a male and female mate on the surface of the sea not far from their colony. Each pair mates for life, returning to the same nesting burrow every year. Puffins excavate their burrows, which can be 7' deep, with their bills, but where possible, simply use an old burrow of another animal. The female lays her egg in the burrow and both sexes share in incubation, which lasts six weeks. Parents also cooperate in feeding the young, but after 5–7 weeks, they stop bringing food to the nest. Within days, the juvenile leaves, traveling to sea by leaping with fluttering wings as it can’t yet fly with the skill of an adult. 

Bill : Bill is hinged with loose skin, which lets the two mandibles move separately with greater freedom. Using its tongue to trap fish against the roof of its upper mandible, the puffin then lowers its bottom mandible to catch and hold yet more fish. 
Wings : Short and narrow wings are an ideal shape for driving the puffin underwater. But when airborne, it has to beat them rapidly to generate lift — and they appear as a blur. 
Plumage : Densely packed feathers overlying insulating down protect the puffin in its repeated exposure to cold, often turbulent, water and battering waves. 
Feet : Webbed and rear-set feet give maximum efficiency when paddling on the surface or steering underwater. But they cause the puffin to walk with a clumsy, shuffling gait on land. 

Weight : Male 13–19 oz; female 12–17oz.
Length : 1–1.5"
Wingspan : 1.5-2'
Sexual Maturity : 5-6 years
Breeding Season : April–August, depending on latitude 

Large flocks of circling puffins, known as “wheels,” are a common sight over every colony in the breeding season. But why they do this is unknown.