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What is an Atlantic Puffin?

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  • Written By: Greer Hed
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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An Atlantic puffin, also known as a common puffin, is a seabird of the species Fratercula artica and a member of the auk family. It is one of only four puffin species worldwide, and the only puffin species found living in the Atlantic Ocean region. The Atlantic puffin typically remains at sea for most of the year, and only comes inland to breed. Its breeding grounds are typically found in eastern North America, Iceland, and northern Europe. These birds are often nicknamed "sea parrots" or "clowns of the ocean" because of their visually striking black and white feathers and their brightly colored beaks.

The Atlantic puffin is typically about 10 to 11 inches (47 to 63 centimeters) in length from its tail to the tip of its bill, with female birds measuring slightly less than their male counterparts. Birds have black feathers on their backs and wings and white feathers covering their cheeks, breasts, stomachs, and legs. The Atlantic puffin also has dark markings around its eyes that somewhat resemble dramatically applied black eyeliner. Birds have large, wedge-shaped bills that are vivid orange, yellow, and deep blue in color; these colors intensify during the mating season, as male birds use their brightly colored bills to attract mates. Their legs are also orange, with webbed feet.

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These seabirds spend the majority of their time in open water and dive for their food. They are strong and graceful swimmers, usually using their wings as paddles when swimming underwater. By contrast, they are clumsy and awkward in flight and also when walking. The diet of the Atlantic puffin consists mostly of small fish, but also includes shellfish and mollusks. Birds often dive several times before finally swallowing their prey whole, and can hold as many as a dozen small fish in their beaks, using their tongues to keep their prey in their mouths while they hunt for more.

The breeding season of the Atlantic puffin typically occurs between the months of May and August. This is the only time of year when the birds venture inland to form small nesting colonies on sandy cliffs and rocky outcroppings. Male puffins dig out a burrow using their feet and beaks; this nesting burrow is then lined with grasses and weeds. Females usually lay only one egg in the burrow and take turns with the males incubating the egg by covering it with their wings. The eggs usually take about 40 days to hatch, and the chicks take about another 40 days to reach maturity.

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