The Tufted Puffin is the largest in size of all the puffins. Its most distinctive feature, other than its colorful bill, is the very noticeable tan-colored feathers that extend from above and behind its eyes down to the nape of its neck. These tufts are what give this puffin its name. Its body is dark-colored, with a white face during the summer breeding season.
The legs and feet are orange, with webbed toes and nails on the tips of the toes, which are used to climb rocky cliffs or dig burrows. Their large bills are reddish-orange with either a light yellow or olive green colored patch at the top. Their eyes have red rings around them, giving them a very interesting appearance in combination with the bright bill and tufted feathers on their heads.
During the winter months the colorful outer part of the bill is shed and it becomes duller in appearance. They also have darker faces (instead of the white color of summer) and the distinctive tufted feathers are shed as well, to be grown again when the next breeding season comes. Males and females look alike although the males are just a slight bit taller.
The Tufted Puffin especially likes to eat squid, crustaceans, krill, zooplankton, and fish. Chicks are fed almost entirely on fish. An adult puffin is able to carry as many as 20 fish in its bill.
This species of puffin can most often be found in the North Pacific, from Alaska to mid-California, as well as along the coast of Japan. They sometimes share their habitat range with their cousins the Horned Puffin, although the Tufted Puffin doesn’t live as far north. During the non-breeding months they are pelagic, just like other puffins, and spend their winters out on the open ocean.
Bald eagles, gulls, snowy owls, ravens, Arctic foxes, rats, and humans all are potential threats to the Tufted Puffin and its offspring.
Like other puffins, Tufted 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 because of its short wings.
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. However it is a very good swimmer, especially underwater, and it uses its short wings to its advantage then. Flapping its wings underwater gives it more speed, and it steers with its webbed feet.
Birth & Offspring
The breeding season for the Tufted Puffin is in springtime. The puffins will return to their breeding colonies after spending the winter at sea. Courtship rituals include visual displays such as flapping of the wings, jerking of the head, and “billing” or rubbing the bills together. Even mated pairs will still use courtship displays. Once a pair mates they usually are mated for life, and will even use the same nesting burrow year after year.
The puffin pair finds a crevice or spot between the cliff rocks to make their nest. 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 baby puffin, also called a “pufflin”, 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 burrow and wait for its parents to return with fish for it to eat. After 6 weeks the young puffin is old enough and grown enough to “fledge”, or leave its nest. This usually takes place after dusk or during the night. It will fly away from the island to spend the next several years out on the ocean, but when mature enough to breed at 3-4 years of age, it will return to the same breeding colony it was hatched in.
Puffins communicate with loud, growling calls or grunts, usually from within its underground burrow. Chicks make peeping noises to get their parents to give them fish. Adults also communicate by using body movements. For example, walking quickly with its head down means the puffin poses no threat to others.
Aggression is shown by stomping a foot, or “gaping”, which means puffing up the body to make the puffin look bigger, and will open its wings and its beak slightly. The more open the puffin’s beak, the more upset the puffin is.
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.