The Horned Puffin looks very much like the Atlantic species of puffin, but it has a ridge of hardened skin that rises above its eyes in a thin vertical line towards the top of its head. This feature is what gives this species of puffin its name. Its bill is very colorful. It is yellow with a red tip. It has a triangle patch of white on its face.
During the summer months it has white on its breast and undersides, and is black everywhere else. During the rest of the year its bill is smaller and less colorful as the outer layer of the bill is shed. The markings are also less colorful and they are more black with gray than the black and white of summer months.
Their legs and feet are reddish-orange or red, and they have webbed toes with sharp toenails, which are useful for digging burrows or clinging to the sides of rocky ledges. Both male and female look alike, although the male is slightly taller than the female.
The Horned Puffin prefers fish and zooplankton, but they will also eat squid. They catch their food by diving into the ocean and then flapping their wings to move along underwater, while steering with their webbed feet. Chicks are fed mostly fish until they are older. An adult puffin is capable of carrying as many as 15 fish in its bill at one time, which it brings back to its chick.
This species of puffin lives mainly in the North Pacific, with most of the population found in Siberia and Alaska. During the winter or non-breeding season they are pelagic, which means they live out on the open ocean. During this time they can be found further south, almost down to the waters off the California coast.
Bald eagles, ravens, snowy owls, gulls of several kinds, Arctic foxes, rats, and humans all are potential threats to the Horned Puffin and its chicks.
Horned puffins, like other puffins, are very social birds. They make their nests in large groups called colonies, and feed together in flocks. Graceful underwater and agile on land, the puffin is awkward in the air, and has a bit of trouble getting airborne.
It will “run” along the surface of the ocean in order to get up enough speed to take flight, or sometimes will dive off a cliff in order to get airborne. The Horned Puffin often will occupy the same general breeding area with the Tufted Puffin.
Birth & Offspring
Breeding season for the Horned Puffin is in spring. The puffins will return to their breeding colonies after spending several months at sea. Courtship rituals include visual displays such as flapping of the wings, jerking of the head, and “billing” or rubbing the bills together. Once a pair mates they usually are mated for life, and will often use the same nesting burrow again and again.
The puffin pair builds their nest in between the rocks of a cliff. The nest is built by the male and is made of feather, leaves, and grass, and one egg is laid there. The egg is incubated by both the male and the female. Once the egg hatches, both parents will feed and care for the chick, taking turns so that one parent can stay behind to keep the chick warm. After 5 days both parents can leave to forage for fish, since the young puffin can keep warm on its own.
It will stay in the nest and wait for its parents to return with fish for it to eat. After 50 days the young puffin is mature enough to “fledge”, or leave its nest. It will fly away from the island to spend the next 3-4 years out on the ocean, but when mature enough to breed it will return to the same breeding colony it was hatched in.
Puffins communicate with loud, growling calls, usually from within its underground burrow. Chicks make peeping noises when hungry, to get their parents to feed them. Adults also communicate by using body movements. For example, walking quickly with head lowered means the puffin poses no threat to others.
Aggression is shown by foot stomping, or “gaping”, which means puffing up the body to make the puffin look bigger. It also will open its wings and its beak slightly. A more wide-open beak means the puffin is upset.
Lydia King is a huge animal lover and has always been fascinated with learning about the animal kingdom. She enjoys writing about anything animal related from scientific information about rare species to animal references in pop culture.