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Latin Name: Fratercula arctica

The 'Clown of the Sea' or 'Sea Parrot' are other affectionate names given to the Puffin. The Puffin is the best-known of the British auks – its colourful and slightly clown-like appearance making it immediately recognisable.

The Puffin’s short wings are used for ‘flying’ underwater in search of fish, large wings would be a disadvantage but small wings make flying in air rather more difficult and the birds must beat their wings rapidly to stay aloft. The Puffin’s beak is only distinctively-coloured in summer; the large red and grey scutes or horny plates together with the fleshy yellow rosette in the corner of the mouth are grown late winter for use in display. After the breeding season they are moulted, the winter bill is relatively small and constricted at the base, and blackish in colour as is the face.

Notice the Yellow Spot,
now put your mouse over the picture


An unmistakable bird with its black back and white front. Its black head with large pale cheeks which can be grey to white, and its flattened, brightly-coloured orange triangular bill during the breeding season. The orange bills are grown just before the breeding season and shed afterwards. It also has red and black eye-markings and bright orange legs. At breeding colonies they will make a deep growl noise, but are silent when at sea.

Animal Facts

In Britain: March-Mid August

Life Span: Average life expectancy around 25 years, although some on Skomer have been recorded as more than 38 years old!

Statistics: 28-34 cm in length with a 50-60cm wingspan. Male is slightly larger than female.

Habitat: Breeding season around the coasts of northern Europe. Winter months spent at sea.

Food: small fish such as sprats, herring fry and especially Sand Eels. They can hold around 10 sand eels in their beak at a time, although there have been reports of 62 fish in their beak at once.

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Both parents bring food to the chick, the commonest item is Sand Eels which the parents catch by diving. Having caught a Sand Eel, it is held between the tongue and upper mandible, enabling the bird to catch another, and another. On Skomer, the normal number of fish carried back to the nest at each visit is about 10, but the world record is 80 (albeit small larval fish), recorded on an island in northern Norway. Most chicks receive some five to eight feeds a day, each averaging about eight grams.

Breeding: Puffins are nesters, using burrows on grassy cliffs, but they will also nest amongst rocks and scree. They return to their nesting sites in April. Male puffins perform most of the nest building in a burrow/chamber which may be many feet underground and is often lined with bits of dead grass, Sea Campion and Bluebell stems. The female lays her single egg, usually in the early part of May. Eggs are incubated by the parent birds in turn for about six weeks. The newly-hatched chick weighs about 35-45grams and is darkish-grey in colour and the down is so long that it almost completely covers the small bill and the legs and feet. The chick stays in the burrow for about six weeks and reaches a weight of about 300 grams during this time.


Distribution: Formerly much more common in southern Britain, there are now few Puffin colonies south of the Scottish border and those of the Farne Islands in Northumberland and Skokholm and Skomer in Pembrokeshire are three of the most important. An accurate census is difficult, but the best estimates indicate that there may be about 2,000 breeding pairs on Skokholm and 6,000 on Skomer with 60,000 pairs on the Farne Islands. Largest colony on St Kilda with an estimated 250,000 pairs.

Behaviour: Towards the end of July, the chicks are ready to leave the nesting site, they are still not fully-grown, being about 70% of the adult’s weight. They can fly reasonably well at this stage. However, they are still very vulnerable to attacks by predatory gulls, so leave at night, working their way down to the cliff-edge and taking off in the darkness. They go by themselves and are out of sight of land by day-break. Thereafter, they are on their own and receive no further parental care.

The young Puffin remains at sea for almost two years. From the age of two onwards the young birds spend more and more time at the colony in summer, looking for a mate and prospecting for a burrow. Although a few may start to breed at the age of four, most do not do so until they are five. The breeding success of Puffins is not very high, on average each pair rears a chick every two years and less than one in five of these young survive to reach breeding age.

Once they have attained breeding age, they are long-lived birds. In good times, as many as 95% of the breeding birds may survive to breed the following year. A 95% annual survival means that the average expectation of life for a Puffin that has just started to breed is about 20 years, so that counting the five years of immaturity, the average life expectancy of Puffins is about 25 years. Some birds live much longer.

Best time to see them in large numbers is Mid June to Mid July, when they are feeding their young, but also new arrivals are looking for new mates for next year.


See Also

How To Photograph Puffins

Where to Photograph Puffins


By: Tracey Park Section: Key:
Page Ref: puffin Topic: Wildlife Last Updated: 05/2009

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