TUFTED PUFFIN (Fratercula cirrhata)
Pigeon-sized. In breeding plumage, body is black, face white, down-curved yellowish tufts hang behind eyes, and parrot-like bill enlarged, bright orange-red. In winter, coloured bill plates shed and bill is smaller and duller, face turns dusky, and tufts disappear. Immatures are dusky above, light grey below, with small bill. In flight, the large, webbed orange feet are conspicuous.
Nests on vertical sea cliffs, in colonies or singly. Overwinters at sea.
One white egg, often spotted, in a burrow on a coastal cliff. Nests in colonies.
Breeds from northern Alaska south to northern California. Winters at sea off breeding grounds.
Silent except for occasional growling notes uttered around the nest site.
Puffins are sometimes referred to as “sea parrots” and can live for up to 30 years. 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. They’re famed for carrying up to 20 small fish in their beaks at a time. 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 pufflings leave the “puffinries,” they won’t touch land again for two years. The breeding colony on Triangle Island off the northern tip of Vancouver Island has BC’s largest population of tufted puffins with 26,000 breeding pairs. Unfortunately they’re quite rare in the Pacific Northwest. Nest numbers are declining, likely from habitat loss and prey declines due to climate change. The only breeding colonies remaining in the Salish Sea are on Protection, Smith and Lopez Islands to the southeast of Victoria.