A pigeon-sized puffin, mostly seen sitting upright on a sea cliff, measuring 14.5–15.5 inches (37–39 cm). In breeding plumage, stubby body black, face white, down-curved yellowish tufts hang behind eyes, and parrot-like bill enlarged, bright orange-red. In winter, coloured bill plates molt and bill is smaller and duller, face turns dusky, and tufts disappear. Immatures are dusky above, light gray below, with small bill. In flight, the large, webbed red feet are conspicuous.
Nests on vertical sea cliffs, in colonies or singly. Feeds at sea.
One white egg, often spotted, in a burrow on an island or coastal cliff. Nests in colonies.
Breeds from northern Alaska south to northern California. Winters at sea off breeding grounds. Also in Asia.
Silent except for occasional growling notes uttered around the nest site.
In most mixed seabird colonies, a strict social order prevails within and between species. Each seems to have adapted to a specific niche, which includes occupying the terrain in a manner most suited to it. This reduces competition between species but sharpens it within each species. Many other alcids place their eggs on cliff ledges. The breeding colony on Triangle Island has BC’s largest population with 26,000 breeding pairs. Puffins are sometimes referred to as the “sea parrots” and can live for up to 30 years. The puffins live together in a very large group called a “raft”. It takes five years for puffins to mature and breed. Where soil conditions permit, puffins can tunnel eight feet or more underground when excavating a burrow. Puffins usually return to the same burrow and nest with the same mate year after year. The female lays only one egg a year, and both parents take turns incubating the egg and feeding the puffling. When the baby pufflings leave the puffinries, they will not touch land again for two years. The adult puffins can be eaten by orcas or hawks. Puffins can dive at least 80 feet deep. A puffin can fly about 40 miles an hour, and will beat its wings about 300 to 400 times a minute. Unfortunately they are quite rare around the Pacific Northwest. They have high populations around the Cape Scott area (northern tip of Vancouver Island).