There are 4 types of puffin. By far the most common is the Atlantic Puffin, which used to be called the Common Puffin. Next most common, and by far the strangest looking is the Tufted Puffin, followed by the Horned Puffin, which has a little pointed fleshy horn above its eye. The fourth type of puffin is not usually called a puffin at all, but the Rhinoceros Auklet. Unlike the majority of seabirds, most puffins do not build nests on rocky ledges, but instead they dig burrows high up on grassy cliff-tops. Puffins use both their feet and beaks to dig. It’s hard work so they will also use an old rabbit burrow if the rabbits have left.
Most of their lives puffins are far out to sea. They spend all winter on the ocean waves. In April or May each year they come back to their breeding grounds, where they stay until mid August or early September. Even then puffins make many trips out to sea to catch fish for themselves and their babies. Both parents sit on the egg and look after the baby, and unlike many birds, both male and female puffins look the same Puffins are monogamous, so they choose one mate and stay together for life. If however, their mate dies they will “remarry,” choosing a different mate. Puffins begin to nest and breed when they are around 5 or 6 years old, and most live to be about 25. Puffins do not stay with their partner all the time when they are at sea.
Puffins are extremely clean animals. They have a separate toilet area in their burrow. They build their nest deep in the burrow and the toilet is usually closer to the entrance, sometimes around a bend. The puffling needs to be kept clean because otherwise it will not be able to fly.
Puffins mainly eat sand eels, which are very small soft fish. If these aren’t available they can also eat other small fish such as herring. Sand eels have become scarcer in recent years and so some puffins have not been able to breed or else their babies go hungry and die. Some puffins have tried to feed the pufflings on pipe fish, but these are too hard for the babies to eat and they can choke.
Scientists are not sure why the sand eels have reduced in number, but some think it could be because the seas are growing warmer and so eels are moving further north. Scientists have fitted some puffins with GPS devices to see where they are going to hunt for fish and have discovered that they fly very long distances – sometimes as far as 20 miles to get food. They make this trip several times a day. Puffins are not in danger as yet, but their numbers have fallen drastically in every country where they breed. Almost all seabirds are facing the same decline in numbers