Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) - Wiki
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[Photo] Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) in flight. Taken by Thomas Gansow, who releases it into the public domain.
The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) is a seabird in the auk family. It is a pelagic species that feeds primarily by diving for fish, but also eats other sea creatures, such as squid and crustaceans. Its most obvious characteristic is its brightly colored beak during the breeding seasons. Also known as the Common Puffin, it is the only puffin species which is found in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Atlantic Puffin is 28???34 centimeters in length, with a 50???60 centimeter wingspan. The male is slightly larger than the female. It is mainly black above and white below, with gray to white cheeks and red-orange legs. The bill is large and triangular, and during the breeding season is bright orange with a patch of blue bordered by yellow at the rear. The characteristic bright orange bill plates grow before the breeding season and are shed after breeding. The bills are used in courtship rituals, such as the pair tapping their bills together. During flight, it appears to have grey round underwings and a white body; it has a direct flight low over the water. The related Tufted Puffin and Horned Puffin are visually similar.
Habitat and distribution
This species breeds on the coasts of northern Europe, [Faroe Islands]], Iceland and eastern North America, from well within the Arctic Circle to northern France and Maine. The winter months are spent at sea far from land ??? in Europe as far south as the Mediterranean and in North America to North Carolina. About 95 per cent of the puffins in North America breed around Newfoundland's coastlines.
The largest puffin colony in the western Atlantic (estimated at more than 260,000 pairs) can be found at the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, south of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Feeding areas are usually located fairly far offshore from the nest. Atlantic Puffins can dive approximately 50-200 feet underwater and are propelled by their powerful wings which are adapted for swimming. They use their webbed feet as a rudder while submerged. Puffins collect several small fish when hunting, and line them up in their bills facing alternately to each side. They use their tongues to hold the fish against spines in their palate, leaving their beaks free to open and catch more fish. Additional components of their diet are crustaceans and mollusks. A puffin can sometimes have a dozen or more fish in its beak at once.
The Atlantic Puffin is typically silent at sea, except for soft purring sounds it sometimes makes in flight. At the breeding colonies the birds make a deep growl.
Atlantic Puffins are colonial nesters, using burrows on grassy cliffs. They will also nest amongst rocks and scree. Male puffins perform most of the work of clearing out the nest area, which is sometimes lined with grass, feathers or seaweed. The only time spent on land is to nest, and mates are found prior to arriving at the colonies.
The Atlantic Puffin is sexually mature at the age of 4-5. The species is monogamous and has biparental care. A single-egg clutch is produced each year, and incubation responsibilities are shared between both parents. Total incubation time is around 39-45 days, and the chick takes about 49 days to fledge. At fledging, the chick leaves the burrow alone, and flies/swims out to sea, usually during the evening. Contrary to popular belief, young puffins are not abandoned by their parents (although this does occur in some other seabirds, such as shearwaters). Synchronous laying of eggs is found in Atlantic Puffins in adjacent burrows (Ehrlich, P., Dobkin, D., Wheye, D. 1988.)
The population of these birds was greatly reduced in the 1800s when they were hunted for meat and eggs. More recently, populations have declined because of predation by large gulls and the inadvertent introduction of rats, cats, dogs and foxes onto some islands used for nesting. A reintroduction project titled Project Puffin on the coast of Maine has helped give the Atlantic Puffin a boost.
Since the Atlantic Puffin spends its winters on the open ocean, it is susceptible to human impacts such as oil spills. If an accidental oil spill occurs and pelagic birds are exposed, toxins are inhaled or ingested which leads to kidney and liver damage. This damage can contribute to a loss of reproductive success and damage to developing embryos (Ehrlich, P., Dobkin, D., Wheye, D.. 1988.)
On the island of Lundy the number has decreased dramatically in recent years (the 2005 breeding population is estimated to be only two or three pairs) as a consequence of depredations by black rats (recently eliminated) and possibly also as a result of commercial fishing for sand eels, the puffins' principal prey.
On the other hand, recent breeding has been very successful on the Isle of May (in the Firth of Forth) of eastern Scotland. Numbers have been increasing by about 10% per year in recent years. In the 2006 breeding season, about 68,000 pairs were counted on the island. However, as promising as this is, Iceland has many times as many breeding pairs with the Puffin, or Lundi in Icelandic, being the most populous bird on the island.
Predators of the Atlantic Puffin include the Great Black-backed Gull, which will catch a puffin in flight, or pick off one separated from the colony. Herring Gulls are not capable of hunting adult puffins, but take eggs or recently hatched chicks, and will also steal fish.
The Atlantic Puffin and other pelagic birds are excellent bioindicators of the environment because they are near the top of the food chain in the ocean. Since the primary food source for Atlantic Puffins is fish, there is a great potential to bioaccumulate heavy metals from the environment. Heavy metals enter the environment through oil spills, such as the Prestige oil spill on the Galician Coast; or from natural or anthropogenic sources. In order to determine the affects on pelagic birds such as the Atlantic Puffin, quantifiable measurements must be taken. In the field, scientists obtain contaminant measurements from eggs, feathers or internal organs.
Since the Atlantic Puffin gets the majority of its food from diving it is important that there is an ample supply of resources and food. Different environmental conditions such as tidal cycle, upwellings and downwellings contribute to this abundance. In a study titled Hydrographic features and seabird foraging in Aleutian Passes it was observed that Atlantic Puffins were associated with areas of well-mixed water below the surface. This study implies that impacts of global warming leads to an alteration of tidal cycles. If these cycles are modified too much then it is probable that the Atlantic Puffin will have a difficult time locating food resources. Another consequence of an increase in temperature is that since it can only live in cool conditions it would limit the range of the Atlantic Puffin.
Relationship with humans
Atlantic Puffins in culture
The Atlantic Puffin is the official bird of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Norwegian municipality of Værøy has an Atlantic Puffin in its coat-of-arms.
The island of Lundy's name is derived from the Norse lunde for the puffins that nest on the island. Puffins also appeared on the coins and stamps of the island and a value expressed in 'Puffins'.
Nicknames of the Atlantic Puffin are Clown of the Ocean and Sea Parrot.
The Atlantic Puffin was recently proposed as the official symbol of the Liberal Party of Canada by its deputy Leader, Michael Ignatieff.
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