Irish Species: Puffin (Fratercula artica)

Atlantic Puffin

The first ever Species of the Day article for my new blog is going to be devoted to the Atlantic Puffin. This is for two reasons; firstly because they are one of my favourite bird species found in Ireland and secondly, because they are ridiculously cute!!

Puffins are an amazing species because not only are they too cute to handle, they are seriously tough birds, as they inhabit one of the most difficult terrains in Ireland – the coast!

For anyone who is a bird-watching enthusiast or just a general bird-nerd, Puffins can be found along the coast of Ireland – mainly on the West Coast and places like the Cliffs of Moher in Co. Clare! Puffins also have their own island dedicated to their species – Puffin Island in Co. Kerry.

The Atlantic Puffin is the smallest type of Auk species and is much smaller than the Puffins that can be found in America such as the Horned Puffin and the Tufted puffin – these species are colourful as well and look seriously cool!

Puffins are known as a Marine Bird as their main diet consists of fish and they are only found inland during their breeding season, often never seen before this time as they fly so far out to sea!

Puffins like many other bird species enjoy some serious Summer lovin’ as their breeding season takes place annually during April to August on land near the coast. During this period, Puffins dominate the land around the coast as they often invade rabbit holes, kicking the rabbits out and moving themselves and their mate in! This strategy is done in order to protect themselves from being eaten by predators that live on the land near the shore!

Puffins don’t always mate for life, but they are quite monogamous for the bird world! It is rare for them to change mates and couples often return every year to the same place to mate and nest. Before they nest, they perform a mating ceremony where they rub their beaks together!

On average, Puffins produce one chick per year after about 45 days of incubation. These chicks are called Pufflings! Amazingly, these pufflings are fully capable of flying after just two months after being born! This is known as ‘fledged’.

Conservation Status:

Currently it is said that there are between 3-4 million pairs of Atlantic Puffins in the world at present.

In Ireland, the Atlantic Puffin is amber-listed by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Although Puffins are not endangered, their populations are experiencing declines in Europe.

There are some reasons as to why this may be happening. For example, an increased predation by their natural enemies. The biggest enemy of the Puffin is the Great Black-backed Gull which has the ability to prey on Puffins that are still in the air!

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Great Black-backed Gull

Also Puffins do not breed until they are 5 years old – this is somewhat late for bird species like theirs! Due to their late sexual maturity, Puffins may be preyed on before ever reaching the age where they could have reproduced. This ultimately means less Puffins in the long run! (A ‘run‘ that may not actually be that long!)

Overfishing is also a large threat to their food sources being shortened as well as pollution of the ocean.

Puffins in Ireland are monitored, with the rest of the breeding seabird species, every 15-20 years by means of surveying carried out by ecologists. The last full-scale surveying activity to be carried out for Puffins was conducted for the project ‘Seabird 2000‘ which was carried out between 1998 and 2002.

Not only our Puffin’s very important for their environment from an ecological viewpoint, they also provide economic value to Ireland through tourism and hobbies!

For example, people enjoy taking paid boats out to the Skellig Islands to see them and to take in the amazing scenery while they’re at it! Puffins also provide recreational and aesthetic value for the keen Irish birdwatchers!

Interesting Facts:

Flight Speed: Puffins can fly as fast as 88 km/h!

Born Divers: Puffins can remain underwater for up to 2 minutes & can dive as low as 60 metres below the surface!!

Fast wings: When in flight, Puffins can flap their wings between 300-400 times per minute!

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