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Atlantic Puffin


Atlantic Puffin

Atlantic Puffin

Peter Mulligan

Often called the "clown of the sea" or "parrot of the sea," the Atlantic puffin is instantly recognizable for its colorful bill and clown-like eye markings. Unique and engaging, this bird is also the official provincial bird of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Common Name:

Atlantic Puffin, Common Puffin

Scientific Name:

Fratercula arctica


  • Bill: Large triangle, orange tip, gray-blue base, yellow stripes
  • Size: 12 inches long with 23-inch wingspan, stocky build
  • Colors: Gray-blue, black, white, orange, yellow
  • Markings: Genders are the same a black crown, nape and thick throat collar contrasting with the pale gray or white face and white underparts. Black lines form a clown-like triangle around the eye with a thin black eye line extending backward. Back, wings and tail are black, and the legs and feet are orange or orange-red.


Fish, crustaceans

Habitat and Migration:

Aptly named, Atlantic puffins congregate on the Atlantic coast. They can be found year round on rocky islands from northern Maine to Nova Scotia and Labrador, as well as along the western coast of Greenland. In summer, these birds breed and nest in colonies on rocky coastlines, cliffs and islands from northern Maine and eastern Canada to the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, including suitable locations in large bays. Atlantic puffins spend the winter at sea, with a range extending from the Arctic Circle to as far south as North Carolina, and in Europe as far south as Spain and Morocco.


These are usually silent birds but a groaning, creaking moan with a low, subtly changing pitch can occasionally be heard at nesting or breeding sites.


These are social birds that gather in large summer colonies with other seabirds, where they can become quite tame. While awkward on land, they are superb swimmers and can dive up to 200 feet deep while fishing, though shallower dives are more typical. They arrange several fish perpendicular to their bills when hunting and transport the food back to the nest with heads and tails dangling out either side of their bills.


Atlantic puffins are monogamous birds and a mated pair will lay a single egg in one annual brood in a nest burrow. Both parents work together to incubate the egg for 40-45 days, and after the chick hatches they continue to care for it for 38-43 days. The parents will then abandon the chick and the young bird will fast for up to a week in its burrow until it is ready to head out to sea at approximately 50 days old. Juvenile Atlantic puffins are not sexually mature until their fifth or sixth year.

Attracting Atlantic Puffins:

Seabirds are not backyard birds, but birders can easily find them at summer nesting colonies, though it is rare to see them at sea in the winter. Many companies near puffin colonies will organize boat tours to approach islands closely, offering superb viewing opportunities. These birds face severe threats from invasive predators such as cats and rats near their nesting colonies, and they are at risk from oil spills and other water pollution.

Similar Birds:

  • Razorbill (Alca torda)
  • Horned Puffin (Fratercula corniculata)
  • Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata)

Photo – Atlantic Puffin © Peter Mulligan
Photo – Atlantic Puffin in Flight © Stig Nygaard

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