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Puffins – The Fast Flyers and Expert Swimmers

puffin-walking image
Puffins look a little like penguins, but they’re completely different birds. These cute little birds stand only about 10 inches high.

Puffins look a little like penguins, but they’re completely different birds. Penguins live in the Antarctica, while puffins live only in the northern seas. These cute little birds stand only about 10 inches high, much smaller than most penguins. Puffins are expert swimmers and fishermen, diving 30 to 40 feet in search of fish.

Puffins Facts For Kids

  • Puffins are sea birds.
  • They have colorful beaks.
  • Live in the North Atlantic.
  • They’re excellent swimmers.
  • Can fly up to 55 mph.
  • Eat fish and zooplankton.
  • Live in large colonies.
  • Nest on cliffs and islands.
  • Can dive 200 feet deep.
  • Lay one egg per year.

Puffin Diet

Puffins, with their distinctive diet primarily consisting of petite fish like herring, capelin and sand eels, typically inhabit areas in close proximity to water bodies. This is strategic, as it enables them to plunge into the sea effortlessly to capture their nourishment.

These birds are proficient hunters, demonstrating remarkable diving abilities that extend to depths of up to 200 feet, and a remarkable capacity to hold multiple fish in their beaks simultaneously – the record astonishingly stands at 62! Their diet occasionally encompasses squid and crustaceans too. This nutrient-dense diet is pivotal to their health and strength, empowering them to swim and fly with extraordinary velocity and dexterity.

Puffin Habitat

Puffins are intriguing avian species that inhabit the chilly, northward areas of the globe, predominantly in locations such as Iceland, Norway, Greenland, and Canada. These adorable creatures favor residing in substantial colonies on precipices or islands, giving them unobstructed access to the sea for their nourishment.

They typically construct their nests in ground burrows or crevices, which offers them protection from predators. Puffins are adept swimmers and divers, relying on the sea for their diet, which mainly consists of small fish and squid caught under the water. Although they spend the majority of their lives at sea, they only venture ashore for breeding and rearing their offspring, thus, their habitat impeccably exemplifies a balance between terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Breeding and Nesting

The enthralling breeding and nesting routine of puffins is bound to pique the curiosity of children. These captivating avian creatures are monogamous, habitually returning to their identical nesting location annually.

To safeguard against predators, their nests are strategically located on cliff sides or stony nooks. Within these secure sanctuaries, the female puffin deposits a solitary egg, which is then incubated alternately by both parents for an estimated period of 45 days.

Upon the emergence of the puffling, the parents collaboratively nourish and care for their offspring until it attains sufficient maturity to independently explore the world.

Puffin Species

Puffins, intriguing members of the auk family, come in three distinct species: the Atlantic, the Horned, and the Tufted puffin. The most well-known among these is the Atlantic Puffin, often referred to as the common puffin, which is identifiable by its small stature, black back, white underbelly, and large, parrot-like beak. Its counterparts, the Horned and Tufted puffins, both inhabit the North Pacific Ocean.

The former is easily recognized by small horn-like features above its eyes while the latter is slightly larger and sports unique yellow tufts during its breeding season. Despite their differences, all puffin species share exceptional abilities in swimming and diving, with their diet primarily consisting of small fish.

Puffin Behavior

Known for their unique behaviors, puffins are fascinating birds that are inherently social and typically dwell in large colonies, often housing thousands of them on clifftops or islands.

They are proficient swimmers and divers, using their wings as means of propulsion underwater in their pursuit of fish, exhibiting an impressive ability to dive as deep as 200 feet and hold their breath for a minute.

Their monogamous nature is another distinctive characteristic, with each puffin having a life-long mate and returning annually to the same burrow to nurture their single offspring. Communication among puffins is carried out through a combination of vocalizations and body movements. In addition to their aquatic prowess, puffins are also exceptional fliers, capable of reaching speeds up to 55 miles per hour.

Puffin Conservation

Puffins, charming birds distinguished by their colorful beaks and hence known as ‘sea parrots’, are primarily marine creatures. However, their population is dwindling due to a myriad of threats including overfishing, pollution, and climate change.

The necessity of puffin preservation initiatives is underscored by these challenges, with such programs targeting the protection of puffin habitats, pollution reduction, and puffin population restoration.

Certain projects even extend to puffin chick relocation to safer habitats, thus enhancing their survival chances. The understanding of puffins and the predicaments they face can foster a deeper comprehension of wildlife conservation among children, thereby encouraging their contribution to such vital efforts.

Threats to Puffins

Despite their endearing visage, puffins are facing an alarming array of survival threats, inclusive of climate change, ocean pollution, and overfishing. The adverse impact of climate change on oceanic temperature disrupts the balance in their food supply, while the increasing prevalence of pollution, especially that of plastic waste, presents a hazard as these lovely birds may inadvertently consume plastic fragments, leading to potential poisoning or choking.

Overfishing in their habitats further aggravates their situation, causing a scarcity in the small fish they primarily feed on, thus intensifying the struggle for food. These cumulative threats have led to a worrying decline in puffin populations across various regions, underscoring the urgency for us to intervene and safeguard these distinct marine avifauna.

Puffin Migration

Puffins are truly remarkable creatures, particularly noted for their distinctive migration habits. Unlike most avian species that migrate to warmer climates during winter, puffins predominantly inhabit the sea throughout their lives.

Following their breeding season, which typically spans from April to August, these birds embark on an impressive journey from their nesting colonies to the open ocean. This journey often involves crossing vast distances, with some puffins migrating from North American colonies to waters off Europe and Northern Africa.

This period, where their existence becomes entirely sea-bound, including feeding and sleeping, is a testament to their extraordinary resilience and adaptability. Hence, puffins are widely acknowledged as one of nature’s most awe-inspiring migrators.

Adaptations of Puffins

With several unique adaptations, puffins are extraordinary animals that flourish in their harsh environments. Their ability to fly and swim exceptionally well is one of their key adaptations, facilitated by their short wings which they flap rapidly for fast flight, reaching speeds of up to 55 miles per hour.

These wings also function like flippers when underwater, allowing them to dive as deep as 200 feet in the ocean to catch small fish. Their brightly colored beaks, far from being just ornamental, have a unique hinged structure that enables them to hold several small fish at once and bring back abundant food for their chicks. Their black and white plumage serves as camouflage, safeguarding them from predators when they are in the water.

These adaptations, from their flight and swimming capabilities to their beak structure and plumage, illustrate how well-equipped puffins are to thrive in their seaside habitats.

Puffin Watching Locations

For children with an interest in wildlife, puffins present an intriguing spectacle. Globally, numerous locations are famed for their substantial puffin populations, offering exceptional viewing opportunities. In North America, Newfoundland in Canada is renowned as one of the prime sites for puffin watching, attracting thousands of these captivating birds each summer.

Similarly, in Europe, Iceland and the Farne Islands in the UK are excellent spots to witness puffins in their natural environment. Many of these locations offer guided tours, ensuring a safe, educational experience for kids to learn about and observe these remarkable birds.

Puffin Walking Image - Science for Kids All About Puffins
Puffins look a little like penguins, but they’re completely different birds. These cute little birds stand only about 10 inches high but that’s not all about puffins.

Puffins are great parents. They usually mate for life and have one baby each summer. Both parents take care of the baby. Puffins dig burrows in soft earth along cliffs or on beaches for their babies. The burrows are about 3 feet long. Puffins make a toilet area in the front of the burrow to keep the baby clean. If baby puffins get their feathers dirty, they might drown once they swim out in the sea.

A Puffin Swimming Image
Puffins are expert swimmers and fishermen, diving 30 to 40 feet in search of fish.

Fun Facts about Puffins for Kids

  • Puffins have bright orange bills only during mating season. The rest of the year, their bills are dull orange.
  • Puffins make low growling noises.
  • Puffins carry fish to their babies. They can carry up to 60 fish at one time.
  • Puffins use body language to communicate with each other. An angry puffin stamps its feet and opens its mouth wide.
  • Puffins are fast flyers. Their wings beat so quickly they are sometimes a blur. Puffins can fly up to 55 miles per hour!
Puffins Flying with Food in their Beak Image
Puffins are fast flyers. Their wings beat so quickly they are sometimes a blur. Puffins can fly up to 55 miles per hour!

Puffin Vocabulary

  1. Burrow: hole in the ground
  2. Dull: matte, not bright
  3. Communicate: share feelings
  4. Blur: hard to see, fuzzy
A Puffin Carrying Fish with its Beak Image
Puffins carry fish to their babies. They can carry up to 60 fish at one time.

Learn More All About Puffins

See this awesome footage all about puffins:

A video of a baby puffin’s first swim.

Puffin Q&A

Question: Are puffins endangered?

Answer: Puffins aren’t currently endangered, but they are vulnerable to overfishing or pollution.


Question: Does the puffin have any nicknames?

Answer: Puffins are sometimes called sea parrot or sea clown. Their Latin name is Fratercula arctica, which means “little brother of the north.”