Marine Animals: Atlantic Puffin

This is Jim Fiorendino, your host for On the Ocean. The Atlantic Puffin, Fratercula arctica, is the official bird of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada as well as a major draw for birdwatchers in the North Atlantic. These arctic avians stand just under a foot tall, with a bright white face and belly and glossy black coloration on their forehead, neck, and back. Their beaks are their most striking feature; viewed from the side, the beak is wide and triangular. Close to the head, the beak is grey, while the tips are bright orange. These two areas of the beak are separated by a yellow ridge. The dimensions of the beak are indicative of the age of an Atlantic puffin.

The striking colors of the Atlantic Puffin’s beak. Photo by: Fred Yost, USFWS,

Atlantic puffins feed primarily on fish, but are known to eat shrimp, crustaceans, molluscs, and worms. Much like penguins, puffins can fly through the water using their flippers to propel them, remaining underwater for up to a minute. Puffins will swallow small fish as they swim, but commonly hold larger fish in their beaks, using their tongues and serrations along their beaks to secure their prey.

Atlantic puffins spend much of their lives alone at sea, returning to land in large colonies to mate. Mating occurs in the spring for Atlantic puffins; they return to the same place they were hatched. Atlantic Puffins tend to be monogamous, and once they have found a mate, or reunited with their mate from the previous year, they work together to build a burrow where they will lay their eggs and raise their offspring, called pufflings. Parents take turns hunting for fish to feed the pufflings.

A baby puffin, or puffling, born at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Atlantic puffins are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The biggest threats to Atlantic puffins currently include human interference, pollution of marine environments, and climate change. Rising temperatures and tourists may interrupt the timing of both the return of Atlantic puffins to their nesting places, and the spawning of fish, leaving Atlantic puffins without an important food source they rely on during their mating period.

A puffin with a beak full of fish. Photo by Sunil Gopalan, National Geographic.

This has been On the Ocean, a program made possible by the Department of Oceanography and a production of KAMU-FM on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. For more information and links, please go to and click On the Ocean.

Cover image: Richard Bartz,

Script Authors: Krista Barentine and Cody Padlo

Editor: James M. Fiorendino

Contributing Professor: Dr. Lisa Campbell