We have a new bonded bird pair in our alcid exhibit! Green Band tufted puffin (female), also known as Gertie, and Purple Band tufted puffin (male) have paired up. Both animals hatched here at the Aquarium, two years ago in July 2014. This is the first year they’ve grown breeding plumage: a bill plate plus the species’ distinctive yellow tufts (not pictured here).
(A quick note about birds’ names—or lack thereof—at the Seattle Aquarium: birds can be notoriously difficult to tell apart. So they’re identified primarily by the colored bands on their legs…kind of like the parents of identical twins putting I.D. bracelets on their babies to keep track of who’s who! But referring to an animal as “Purple Band” can feel a little impersonal, so some of the birds end up getting named by staff members—like Green Band becoming Gertie.)
Most alcids form long-term bonds. Courtship involves rubbing bills, strutting and “skypointing” (pointing head and bill up to the sky while keeping wings and tail raised). Males also perform head-jerking displays.
After courtship comes the commitment, and it’s a doozy. In the wild, tufted puffins prefer steep, grassy slopes for their nests. After finding a suitable spot, the pair takes turns to dig a burrow between two and seven feet long. Since they have only their bills and feet to work with, this excavation takes an entire breeding season to complete. The pair doesn’t actually use their finished nest until the following summer—when the female lays a single egg.
After the egg is laid, the pair takes turns incubating it—and, once the chick hatches, the parents share responsibility for its care and feeding. With so much involvement from both parents, the value of this bird bond is very apparent!
Plan a visit to the Seattle Aquarium to see our “lovebirds” in person! In addition to Green Band and Purple Band, other current bonded pairs in the exhibit include: Red Blue Band tufted puffin (male) with Yellow Band tufted puffin (female); Orange Band tufted puffin (male) with Orange Band rhinoceros auklet (female); Yellow Band common murre (male) with Black Band common murre (female); and Green Orange Band rhinoceros auklet (male) with Yellow Band rhinoceros auklet (female).
But be aware: bird relationships, just like those of humans, don’t always work out and as animals mature, social dynamics may shift. Interested in learning more about the birds at the Seattle Aquarium? Check out our animal fact sheets!