Puffins Puffins

Scientific Classification

Common Name
Genus Species
Fratercula spp.; there are 3 extant species of puffins, common, horned, and tufted

Fast Facts

Although not closely related, puffins are similar in shape and color to penguins. Like penguins, puffins have a vertical posture, wide webbed feet and are strongly counter-shaded with a black dorsal side and a white ventral side. Yet, puffins differ in having broader and very colorful bills and, unlike penguins, are able to fly.
Common puffins (Fratercula artica) are 20 to 30 cm (8 to 12 in.) tall
Common puffins weigh between 396 to 482 g (14 to 17 oz.)
Fishes and aquatic invertebrates
Incubation lasts from 29 to 45 days. During the breeding season their colorful bills become especially vivid. Both parents incubate the egg and feed the chick.
Clutch Size: Puffins are colonial nesters that lay 1 egg each year.
Sexual Maturity
Approximately 3 to 5 years
Life Span
May vary by species
Puffins nest along the coastlines of Russia, Norway, Iceland, the British Isles, Western France, and Maine east to Greenland
Typically pelagic and found in the cold, ocean waters of the Northern Hemisphere. All three species come onshore to breed.
Common puffin: the European population is estimated to be 9,550,000 to 11,600,000 mature individuals. Horned puffin: the global population is estimated to number greater than 1,200,000 individuals. Tufted puffin: the global population is estimated to number greater than 3,500,000 individuals.
IUCN: Common puffin: Vulnerable; Horned puffin: Least Concern; Tufted puffin: Least Concern
CITES: Not listed
USFWS: Not listed

Fun Facts

Puffins are small seabirds that belong in the scientific family Alcidae. There are three species of living puffins: common, horned and tufted. These birds, along with auks, guillemonts, and murres of alcids exist today. Humans hunted the largest member of this family, the great auk, into extinction by 1834.

Puffins possess adaptations that allow them to thrive in the harsh, cold ocean waters of the Northern hemisphere. A layer of fat acts as insulation while their feathers trap air for extra warmth. They also produce oil from a gland by their tail. The oil, once spread over their feathers, helps repel water.

Besides penguins, alcids are the only birds that swim with their wings, rather than their feet. Puffins may dive deeper than 24 m (80 ft) to catch fish. Their specialized bills are laced with sharp hooks that help hold fish. One puffin was seen with more than 60 fish in its bill at one time. In the air, puffins are powerful flyers, beating their wings 300 to 400 times a minute to achieve speeds up to 64 kph (40 mph).

Puffins are colonial nesters that lay one egg each year. During the breeding season, their bills become vivid and colorful. Both parents incubate the egg and feed the chick.

Puffins nest along the coastlines of Russia, Norway, Iceland, the British Isles, Western France, and Maine east to Greenland.

Ecology and Conservation

Natural predators include gulls, sharks, and killer whales. Humans also hunt puffins, sometimes with devastating results. As European colonists first arrived in the New England area, puffins were hunted for their meat. Later, puffins were taken for reasons beyond sustenance, as their feathers were used for pillow stuffing and hat decorations. By 1901, only one pair remained south of the Canadian border by Maine's Matincus Rock.

Because of protection by the National Audubon Society and the United States government, puffins have made a comeback. The puffin population on Matincus Rock is around 150 pairs now. The 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects puffins, as well as most bird species within the United States. This important law prevents the transportation, sale or taking of migratory birds, nests, and eggs.


Harris, M.P. The Puffin. Staffordshire, England. T & AD Poyser, Ltd. 1984.

Nettleship, D. and T. Birkhead (Eds.). The Atlantic Alcidae: The Evolution, Distribution and Biology of the Auks Inhabiting the Atlantic Ocean and Adjacent Water Areas. London. Academic Press Inc. 1985.

Peterson, R.T. Peterson Field Guides: Western Birds. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Co. 1990.


Gough, G.A., Sauer, J.R., Iliff, M. Patuxent Bird Identification Infocenter. 1998. Version 97.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD.

IUCN 2019. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2019-3. http://www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 3 March 2020.