The Atlantic Puffin
Of all the amazing wildlife found in and around Iceland, one little bird is undeniably the superstar of the show. This is of course the Atlantic Puffin. Famous for its rainbow bill, its puppy-dog eyes and its adorable waddle, this is hands down the cutest little sea bird known to man. And that’s not all. It has some ridiculously cute characteristics, traits and a lifestyle that sounds like something out of a children’s book.
Are puffins related to penguins?
With distinct black and white markings, a rather large head and bill, that characteristic waddle and some seriously advanced diving techniques, many assume that the Atlantic Puffin is a close relative to penguins. But the puffin is a seabird of the auk family and not related to penguins at all.
Where are puffins in Iceland?
A whopping 60% of the world’s entire Atlantic Puffin population lives in and around Iceland. Puffins spend their winters out at sea but in summer they grace us with their presence as they return to their colonies for breeding season. Their colonies are found in various places around the island with very large populations on the little islands around Reykjavik but the biggest ones are in the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) just south of Iceland. During summer they’re frequently spotted near their colonies, with their young pufflings getting into trouble as they accidentally head for nearby town lights instead of aiming for the open water. Helping lost pufflings back out to sea is a favorite task among locals living near these colonies.
The puffin body builder
Puffins are rather small birds, approx. 25 cm tall (10 inches). Their colorful rainbow bills give them a parrot-like appearance and they’re often called sea parrots or clowns of the sea. With waterproof feathers they are perfectly equipped to float in the open Nordic Sea in winter, dive for fish and fly. They are in fact superb swimmers, divers and fliers. Puffins are extraordinary hunters and can dive over 50 m (170 feet) for delicious herring and capelin meals. And if that’s not all, they are aviation masters, reaching speeds of up to 88 km/h (55 miles per hour). Agile, tough and incredibly well insulated, these little seabirds have evolved quite the superpowers and thrive in their natural surroundings. In fact, they have a rather long life compared to most birds and have an average lifespan of 25 years while the oldest recorded puffin reached the respectable age of 38!
A puffin way of life
It may come as a surprise that their appearance is actually not the most adorable thing about puffins. It’s their lifestyle. These little cuties mate for life but spend a solitary winter out in the open sea hunting and riding the waves. In summer, the male will typically arrive ahead of the female to their very own puffin hole in their colony. This is a little burrow, a summerhouse if you will, usually with a separate bedroom/nursery and a toilet in a special compartment. The male arrives for spring cleaning to make the cottage neat and pretty for his family. The female then arrives approx. a week later for a romantic summer with her spouse. We’re not making this up.
The puffin is close to our heart here at PLAY because our super adorable chatbot Playfin is a close relative. If you haven’t met Playfin, we highly recommend you click on his little icon on our website and introduce yourself. He loves a good chat and he might very well have some interesting puffin facts up his wing.