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10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Atlantic Puffin

Did you know you can see puffins all around Iceland? Let us tell you 10 surprising facts about these cute, little birds!

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 nest.

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

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

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.

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, recent studies found out 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.

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.

10. They’re smaller than you think.

Puffins are only about 30 cm from the tip of their bill to the end of their tail and stand at about 20 cm 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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