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Puffin in Iceland

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Atlantic Puffin

You can see puffins along Iceland’s coastlines and islands from May till early September. Read all about these cute, little seabirds in this article.

1. They mate for life

Puffins uphold the bird version of conservative family values, they mate for life, raise their single puffling over the course of the summer, and return every year to their same burrow.

2. They’re easy prey for predators on land, which is why they usually nest on islands

Predators like foxes, weasels, cats and dogs can’t reach them on the islands around Iceland or out at sea during the wintertime. In fact, the puffins’ most threatening natural predator is homo sapiens. Puffin is still hunted for food and eaten, fresh or smoked, although that tradition is waning.

3. They’re great swimmers, but clumsy flyers

Puffins are graceful on the water, swimming and diving for fish in smooth, natural motions. In the air, however, they look like they’re ready to fall out of the sky at any moment, flying with jerking motions and crash-landing into the water.

4. They spend most of their life at sea

Puffins are pelagic birds, which means that they spend more than half of the year far out at sea. They are well suited to life on the sea and mostly eat fish. They only return to their holes to breed from April to August.

5. They don’t make nests, they dig holes

Puffins are seabirds and tend to live where trees don’t. They dig holes instead, up to a metre deep. They sometimes even use old rabbit holes if there are any rabbits in the area.

Puffin

6. Their beaks are impressive

The multicoloured beaks that the puffins sport for the mating seasons have, in some parts of the world, earned them the nickname of sea parrot or even sea clown. In Iceland they have a more dignified moniker, they’re called provosts because their pompous manner reminds people of senior church officials.

7. Their beaks are so impressive, they glow under UV light

Yes, studies show that puffins have fluorescent beaks! Birds like puffins can not only see the red, blue, and green light humans can see, but also wavelengths at the UV end of the spectrum. Their fluorescent beaks may help them attract the opposite sex.

Tufted puffin

8. They’re still not as impressive as the tufted puffin

The puffin, or more accurately the Atlantic puffin, has a cousin known as the tufted puffin. Its beak hasn’t got the same range of colours, but the bird more than makes up for it with yellow tufts of feathers, streaming back from its head like luscious blond locks.

9. They’re not our national bird

That honour belongs to the infinitely more graceful, if less likable, gyrfalcon. For a while the falcon was even represented in the national crest. The national order of Iceland, awarded by the president, is the Order of the Falcon.

Puffin in Iceland

10. They’re smaller than you think

Puffins are only about 30cm from the tip of their bill to the end of their tail and stand at about 20cm on land. This makes them the same size as, or even smaller than most of their stuffed lookalikes sold in Reykjavík souvenir stores.

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