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Wild Scandinavia: Puffin facts

 

Did you know that this cute Atlantic bird is also known as a 'clown of the sea' or a 'sea parrot'? With their almost comically large beak and head, striped in a distinctive red and orange fashion, seeing a puffin in the wild is a quintessential Arctic and sub-Arctic experience.

On a Hurtigruten voyage to Norway, Iceland or Greenland you'll have the opportunity to spot these beautiful birds and even join one of our bird watching safaris. Some 60% of puffins nest on Iceland, so on a visit to Reykjavik, make sure you check out the not to distant nesting grounds. Before you head off on your Arctic adventure, here are a few interesting facts about these cute little critters:

12 Puffin Facts:

1. Puffins get their name from their puffed-up appearance. Puffins are only about 25cm tall and have thick down to withstand the freezing waters. Their thick black and white feathers give them the appearance of roundness, like they have a little belly. When puffins fight they raise their feathers in an attempt to look more intimidating to the other puffin. To the human eye though, in combat these birds look perhaps even cuter.

2. Puffins are extremely effective flyers and by flapping their wings at about 350–400 beats per minute, they can reach speeds of up to 88 km/h!

3. Puffins don't always mate for life exclusively, but they do rarely change mates, prompting many people to describe them as monogamous. When a puffin is 3 to 5 years old, they will choose a life mate. Every year, they return to the same nesting grounds with their mate and perform a mating dance, where they rub their beaks together. This is known as billing and will often draw an excited crowd of puffins to watch. They then make a nest in a burrow and lay just one egg, for which they share responsibility, including when the chick hatches out of the egg.

4. The puffin's Latin name, Fratercula means 'little brother'. The name refers to the sea bird’s black and white plumage, because it was said to resemble the robes that friars (or brothers) once wore.

puffins_fish_600x4505. A puffins main diet is fish and sometimes crustaceans. Similar to penguins, they are incredibly skilled divers and hunt for prey by diving. They can stay underwater for up to a minute at up to 60m of depth searching for fish, but usually only spend 20–30 seconds in the water at a time. Puffins are able to carry an impressive number of fish in their beaks at once - they usually catch around 10 or so per hunt, but have been known to carry more. According to Project Puffin, the record for fish held at once was 62.

6. Puffins spend most of their lives at sea, resting on the waves when they are not swimming. They will drink seawater to maintain energy between hunting prey.

7. A puffin's beak changes colour during the year. In winter, the beak has a dull grey colour, but in the springtime, in time for mating season, it becomes bright red or orange. The vibrancy of the colour is thought to indicate the puffin's health and therefore attractiveness as a mate.

puffins_chick1_600x4508. Puffins have waterproof feathers specifically effective for open sea. It is extremely important that they keep their feathers clean to maintain the waterproofing so learning how to do this is essential for young chicks, or pufflings. Although a puffling will not leave the burrow until they are able to fly, at the mouth of the burrow will be a toilet area, away from the nest to maintain cleanliness.

9. In the wild, puffins live up to 20 years and their main predator is the great black-backed gull, which will catch the puffins while they are in flight or swoop in on them when they are on the ground.

10. There are a few collective nouns for puffins, but our favourite has got to be a Circus of Puffins (because they're also known as "clowns of the sea")

11. Ever wondered what sound a puffin makes? When they're flying they make a high screeching noise, and when they're in their burrows they make a muted sound a bit like a cat purring.

12. Puffins are not classified as endangered but they are threatened by over-fishing in some areas, as this is their main food source. Climate change also poses a threat to puffins as they are ideally built for 0–20°C  waters and cool water fish.

 

See these incredible sea parrots for yourself with us on one of our expedition cruises or excursions!