Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica)
The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) is a small sea bird which spends most of its life living on the open ocean. It is also known as the Common Puffin and it is the only puffin species which occurs in the Atlantic Ocean. All three other puffin species are found in the Pacific. When they are not mating and nesting, Puffins spend their time flying, swimming or riding the vast watery ocean, regardless of the weather. They feed primarily on fish, although they have also been known to eat crustaceans and molluscs. When diving for fish, they make use of their specially adapted wings as a means of propulsion while their webbed feet steer them. They are able to catch several small fish in their bills during the course of one dive, making use of their tongue to trap the fish while their mouths are open. Amazingly, these small pigeon-sized birds can dive to depths between 50 and 200 feet.
The species is primarily characterised by their brightly-coloured orange bills which only gain colour before the mating season. The male is slightly larger than the female and their bodies are mainly black on the top with a white underbelly. Their faces are grey and they have short, red-orange legs. Their bodies average between 28-34 cm in length and they have a wingspan of between 50 and 60 cm. During the winter months, these puffins may travel as far south as the Mediterranean and North Carolina. When it is mating season, the Atlantic Puffin can be found off the coasts of northern Europe, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and the eastern parts of North America. They also occur in the Arctic Circle and in northern France and Maine.
Every year near April, puffins start to grow brightly coloured bill plates as they move north towards their breeding grounds. These bills are used in courtship rituals and a pair will usually tap their bills together. After the mating season these brightly coloured bill plates are shed. The male puffin will clear out the nest area for the female he has found before she arrives at the nesting ground, lining it with suitable materials. The female then lays a single egg and the pair share incubation responsibilities. After between 39-45 days, the chick will hatch and then after a further 49 days, will be ready to fledge. When it is old enough it will venture out to sea alone and begin life as a young puffin adult. At about 5-6 years of age, the young puffin will become sexually mature and be ready to mate and produce offspring.