Open Spaces: Meet the Species: Tufted Puffin

Meet the Species: Tufted Puffin

Tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata) are highly decorative seabirds.

Breeding adults have huge orange bills, legs and feet, white faces, and long golden feather tufts that curl back from each side of the head. In late summer, they lose their tufts and the bright colors of the bill turn to a dull reddish-brown.

tufted_puffinThe tufted puffin surveying its domain. (Photo: Karen Sullivan/USFWS)

Diet is one of the fascinating details of Tufted puffin biology. Chicks are fed almost entirely tiny fish which the parents catch underwater and collect, lined up head to tail, across their bills. They routinely hold 5-20 fish in their mouths while returning to the nest. Puffins use their tongues to hold the fish against the spiny palate in their mouths while opening their bill to catch more fish.

This species prefers high, steep areas for nesting.

tufted_puffin_flightThe tufted puffin takes flight. (Photo: Karen Sullivan/USFWS)

Although they are about the size of a crow, they are twice as heavy with short, stubby wings. The wings are used for "flying" underwater in pursuit of food; this same feature makes them poor aerial flyers. Tall cliffs make for easy take-offs and give newly fledged puffins assistance ingetting up enough airspeed for their first flight. The toes of their webbed feet have sharp claws that are used to dig burrows in the steep hillsides of their nesting areas. At rockier sites where soil is scarce or nonexistent, they nest in crevices.

Tufted puffins are widespread in the North Pacific Ocean and nest on coastlines and offshore islands from lower California to Alaska and across the ocean from Japan to the shores of northeastern Asia.

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Last updated: June 21, 2012