Chordates • Earth.com

Puffin

(Fratercula arctica)

galery

Description

The Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica),also known as the common puffin,is a species of seabird in the auk family.It is the only puffin native to the Atlantic Ocean;two related species,the tufted puffin and the horned puffin,are found in the northeastern Pacific.The Atlantic puffin breeds inIceland,Norway,Greenland,Newfoundland and many North Atlantic islands,and as far south as Maine in the west and the west coast of Ireland and parts of the United Kingdom in the east.Although it has a large population and a wide range,the species has declined rapidly,at least in parts of its range,resulting in it being rated as vulnerable by the IUCN.On land,it has the typical upright stance of an auk.At sea,it swims on the surface and feeds mainly on small fish,which it catches by diving underwater,using its wings for propulsion.This puffin has a black crown and back,pale grey cheek patches and white underparts.Its broad,boldly marked red and black beak and orange legs contrast with its plumage.It moults while at sea in the winter and some of the bright-coloured facial characteristics are lost,with color returning again during the spring.The external appearance of the adult male and female are identical though the male is usually slightly larger.The juvenile has similar plumage but its cheek patches are dark grey.The juvenile does not have brightly coloured head ornamentation,its bill is narrower and is dark-grey with a yellowish-brown tip,and its legs and feet are also dark.Puffins from northern populations are typically larger than in the south and it is generally considered that these populations are different subspecies.Spending the autumn and winter in the open ocean of the cold northern seas,the Atlantic puffin returns to coastal areas at the start of the breeding season in late spring.It nests in clifftop colonies,digging a burrow in which a single white egg is laid.The chick mostly feeds on whole fish and grows rapidly.After about six weeks it is fully fledged and makes its way at night to the sea.It swims away from the shore and does not return to land for several years.Colonies are mostly on islands where there are no terrestrial predators but adult birds and newly fledged chicks are at risk of attacks from the air by gulls and skuas.Sometimes a bird such as an Arctic skua will harass a puffin arriving with a beakful of fish,causing it to drop its catch.The striking appearance,large colourful bill,waddling gait and behaviour of this bird have given rise to nicknames such as "clown of the sea" and "sea parrot".It is the official bird symbol for the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.The Atlantic puffin is sturdily built with a thick-set neck and short wings and tail.It is 28 to 30 centimetres (11 to 12 in) in length from the tip of its stout bill to its blunt-ended tail.Its wingspan is 47 to 63 centimetres (19 to 25 in) and on land it stands about 20 cm (8 in) high.The male is generally slightly larger than the female,but they are coloured alike.The forehead,crown and nape are glossy black,as are the back,wings and tail.A broad black collar extends around the neck and throat.On each side of the head is a large,lozenge-shaped area of very pale grey.These face patches taper to a point and nearly meet at the back of the neck.The shape of the head creates a crease extending from the eye to the hindmost point of each patch giving the appearance of a grey streak.The eye looks almost triangular in shape because of a small,peaked area of horny blue-grey skin above it and a rectangular patch below.The irises are brown or very dark blue and each has red orbital ring.The underparts of the bird,the breast,belly and undertail coverts,are white.By the end of the breeding season,the black plumage may have lost its shine or even taken on a slightly brown tinge.The legs are short and set well back on the body giving the bird its upright stance when on land.Both legs and large webbed feet are bright orange,contrasting with the sharp black claws.The beak is very distinctive.From the side the beak is broad and triangular but viewed from above it is narrow.The half near the tip is orange-red and the half near to the head is slate grey.There is a yellow chevron-shaped ridge separating the two parts and a yellow,fleshy strip at the base of the bill.At the joint of the two mandibles there is a yellow,wrinkled rosette.The exact proportions of the beak vary with the age of the bird.In an immature individual,the beak has reached its full length but it is not as broad as that of an adult.With time the bill deepens,the upper edge curves and a kink develops at its base.As the bird ages,one or more grooves may form on the red portion.The bird has a powerful bite.The characteristic bright orange bill plates and other facial characteristics develop in the spring.At the close of the breeding season,these special coatings and appendages are shed in a partial moult.This makes the beak appear less broad,the tip less bright and the base darker grey.The eye ornaments are shed and the eyes appear round.At the same time,the feathers of the head and neck are replaced and the face becomes darker.This winter plumage is seldom seen by humans because when they have left their chicks,the birds head out to sea and do not return to land until the next breeding season.The juvenile bird is similar to the adult in plumage but altogether duller with a much darker grey face and yellowish-brown beak tip and legs.After fledging,it will make its way to the water and will head out to sea and not return to land for several years.In the interim,each year it will have a broader bill,paler face patches and brighter legs and beak.The Atlantic puffin has a direct flight,typically 10 metres (33 ft) above the sea surface and higher over the water than most other auks.It mostly moves by paddling along efficiently with its webbed feet and seldom takes to the air.It is typically silent at sea,except for the soft purring sounds it sometimes makes in flight.At the breeding colony it is quiet above ground but in its burrow makes a growling sound somewhat resembling a chainsaw being revved up.

Taxonomic tree:

Domain:
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum:
Class: Aves
Order:Charadriiformes
Family:Alcidae
Genus:Fratercula
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