Key facts

Scientific name: Fratercula arctica

Status: Breeding summer visitor

Breeding pairs: 580,000

Conservation status: Red

Length: 26 – 26 cm

Wingspan: 47 – 65 cm

Weight: 460 g


Atlantic puffins are comical looking birds sometimes nicknamed “sea parrots” or “clowns of the sea”. They have chunky bodies with short wings.

In breeding season adult puffins have black upperparts with white bellies. The underwing is duskier and the forehead, crown and nape are black with a black collar above the breast. Their faces are grey and white.

Puffins’ distinctive bills are bulky and triangle shaped. The upper mandible is made of striped horny ridges that are bright orange, blue and yellow.

Puffins’ eyes are brown with a red eye-ring with a fine black line extending to the nape. Their legs and webbed feet are bright orange.

In winter the plumage is duller and the beak is smaller and thinner and grey in colour. The legs and feet become duller turning yellowish.

Male and female puffins are similar while juveniles look like adults but are smaller in size and they have a duller bill with fewer horny plates. Their legs and feet are pink.


Puffins nest in colonies and are highly territorial. Both adults build the nest in a burrow. They use their feet to excavate the soil to dig a burrow up to 2 metres in length which is lined with dry grasses and feathers. The nest chamber is at the end of the burrow.

Puffins lay a single white egg with brown marks. It is incubated by both parents for 35-45 days. Both parents feed the chick after hatching . About 40 days later the chick will begin to dive for fish but will not fly till about 10 days later.


Puffins eat mostly fish but will also supplement their diet during the summer with small crustaceans and squid.


Where to see them

Puffins arrive to breed in the UK during March and April. They are found on coastal colonies around much of the UK except the south and east. They leave in August although some remain in the North Sea over winter.


david m/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Although puffins are good fliers and can reach speeds of nearly 90 km/h, they find landing difficult and will crash land into a wave crest of do a belly-flop on to a smoother surface of water.

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