Winter Fishtival: Puffin Fun Facts

Tufted Puffin at the Seattle Aquarium

Join us for hands-on activities, special talks and opportunities to learn more about the care and feeding of the Aquarium’s fish, birds, tide pool animals and marine mammals during Winter Fishtival! Each day we’ll highlight a different sea animal and activity. Today the featured animal is the puffin. Here are some fun and interesting facts about puffins.

Puffins are members of the Alcids. Alcids are diving seabirds that nest on islands and steep cliffs close to abundant food resources (fish). There are seven species of Alcids found in Washington which includes the tufted puffin.

Physical Characteristics:

  • Bones are denser than most birds. This makes them less pneumatic, therefore it’s easier to stay underwater.
  • Streamline bodies allow them to move through the water more efficiently (aquadynamic).
  • Wings are shorter and thicker than most birds.
      • Allows them to propel themselves through the thicker medium of water more easily.
      • This also has the effect of making them strong but less graceful fliers in the air hence the term “flying football”.
  • Their blood has a high oxygen carrying capacity, which helps them to stay underwater longer without taking a breath.
  • Their plumage is very dense.
  • The roof of their mouth has spines. Living in the water, their main prey items are small fishes so having spines on the roof of their mouth allows them to catch multiple fish at one time to take back to their chicks.

Behavioral Characteristics:

  • The puffin breeds from California to Japan.
  • Food consists of small fish, as well as crustaceans, mollusks and cephalopods.
  • Tufted puffins arrive in their breeding colonies March through May, through early June on the Alaskan coast.
  • Puffins prefer islands with steep, grassy slopes and deep soil for burrowing.

Cool Facts:

  • They have powerful feet with strong middle toes – good for digging burrows.
  • Bills have specialized parts called bill plates which appear only during breeding season.
  • A puffin can fly 48 to 55 mph (77 to 88 km/hr).

No hind toe on foot. Makes impossible to grab/manipulate food with feet, thus bill is used instead.

Come visit the Aquarium to learn more about the puffin at Winter Fishtival. Tomorrow’s featured animal is the sculpin!

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