Monday, April 30, 2012

>>>Family Anatidae


Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
Scientific classificatione
Vigors, 1825
Type species
Anas platyrhynchos
Linnaeus, 1758
and see text
Anatidae is the biological family of birds that includes ducksgeese and swans. The family has a cosmopolitan distribution, occurring on all the world's continents except Antarctica and on most of the world's islands and island groups. These are birds that can swim, float on the water surface, and in some cases dive in at least shallow water. (The Magpie Goose is no longer considered to be part of the Anatidae, but is placed in its own family Anseranatidae.) The family contains around 146 species in 40 genera. They are generally herbivorous, and are monogamous breeders. A number of species undertake annual migrations. A few species have been domesticated for agriculture, and many others are hunted for food and recreation. Five species have become extinct since 1600, and many more are threatened with extinction.

Description and ecology

The ducks, geese and swans are small to large sized birds that have a general body plan that is broad and elongated. Diving species vary from this in being rounder. Extant species range in size from the Cotton Pygmy Goose, at as little as 26.5 cm (10.5 inches) and 164 grams (5.8 oz), to theTrumpeter Swan, at as much as 183 cm (6 ft) and 17.2 kg (38 lb). The wings are short and pointed, and supported by strong wing muscles that generate rapid beats in flight. They typically have long necks, although this varies in degree between species. The legs are short, strong, are set far to the back of the body (more so in the more aquatic species), and have a leathery feel with a scaly texture. Combined with their body shape this can make some species awkward on land, but they are stronger walkers than other marine and water birds such as grebes or petrels. They have webbed feet. The bills are made of soft keratin with a thin and sensitive layer of skin on top (which has a leathery feel when touched). For most species, the shape of the bill tends to be more flattened to a greater or lesser extent. These contain serrated lamellae which are particularly well defined in the filter-feeding species.
Their feathers are excellent at shedding water due to special oils. Many of the ducks display sexual dimorphism, with the males being more brightly coloured than the females (although the situation is reversed in species like the Paradise Shelduck). The swans, geese and whistling-ducks lack sexually dimorphic plumage. Anatids are vocal birds, producing a range of quacks, honks, squeaks, and trumpeting sounds, depending on species; the female often has a deeper voice than the male.
Anatids are generally herbivorous as adults, feeding on various water-plants, although some species also eat fish, molluscs, or aquatic arthropods. One group, the mergansers, are primarily piscivorous, and have a serrated bill to help them catch fish. In a number of species, the young include a high proportion of invertebrates in their diet, but become purely herbivorous as adults.


The anatids are generally seasonal and monogamous breeders. The level of monogamy varies within the family, many of the smaller ducks only maintain the bond for a single season and find a new partner the following year, whereas the larger swans, geese and some of the more territorial ducks maintain pair bonds over a number of years. Anatidae are remarkable for being one of the few families of birds that possess a penis; most species are adapted for copulation on the water only. They construct simple nests from whatever material is close to hand, often lining them with a layer of down plucked from the mother's breast. In most species, only the female incubates the eggs. The young are precocial, and are able to feed themselves from birth. One aberrant species, the Black-headed Duck, is an obligate brood parasite, laying its eggs in the nests of gulls and coots. While this species never raises its own young, a number of other ducks will occasionally lay eggs in the nests of conspecifics (members of the same species) in addition to raising their own broods.

Relationship with humans

Duck, eider, and goose feathers and down have long been popular for bedspreads, pillows, sleeping bags and coats. The members of this family also have long been used for food.
Humans have had a long relationship with ducks, geese and swans; they are important economically and culturally to humans, and several duck species have benefited from an association with people. On the other hand some anatids are damaging agricultural pests, and have acted as vectors for zoonoses such as avian influenza.
Since 1600, five species of duck have become extinct due to the activities of humans, and subfossil remains have shown that humans caused numerous extinctions in prehistory. Today many more are considered threatened. Most of the historic and prehistoric extinctions were insular species, these species were vulnerable due to small populations (often endemic to a single island), and island tameness. Evolving on islands that lacked predators these species lost anti-predator behaviours as well as the ability to fly, and were vulnerable to human hunting pressure and introduced species. Other extinctions and declines are attributable to overhunting,habitat loss and modification, as well as hybridisation with introduced ducks (for example the introduced Ruddy Duck swamping the White-headed Duck in Europe). Numerous governments, conservation and hunting organisations have made considerable progress in protecting ducks and duck populations through habitat protection and creation, laws and protection, and captive breeding programmes.


The relationships of the different tribes and subfamilies within the family are poorly understood. The listing in the box at right should be regarded as simply one of several possible ways of organising the many species within the Anatidae; see discussion in the next section.
The systematics of the Anatinae is in a state of flux. Previously divided into six subfamilies, a study of anatomical characters by Livezey suggest that the Anatidae are better treated in nine subfamilies. This classification was popular in the late 1980s to 1990s. But mtDNA sequence analyses indicate that for example the dabbling and diving ducks do not belong in the same subfamily. While there are certainly shortcomings in Livezey's analysis, mtDNA is an unreliable source for phylogenetic information in many waterfowl (especially dabbling ducks) due to their ability to produce fertile hybrids, in rare cases possibly even beyond the level of genus (see for example the "Barbary Duck"). Because the sample size of many molecular studies available to date is small, mtDNA results must be considered with caution.
But while a comprehensive review of the Anatidae which unites all evidence into a robust phylogeny is still lacking, the reasons for the confusing data are at least clear: As demonstrated by the Late Cretaceous fossil Vegavis iaai — an early modern waterbird which belonged to an extinct lineage—the Anatidae are an ancient group among the modern birds. Their earliest direct ancestors, though not documented by fossils yet, likewise can be assumed to have been contemporaries with the dinosaurs. The long period of evolution and shifts from one kind of waterbird lifestyle to another have obscured many plesiomorphies, while apomorphies apparently are quite often the result of parallel evolution, for example the "non-diving duck" type displayed by such unrelated genera as DendrocygnaAmazonetta, and Cairina. For the fossil record, see below.
Alternatively, the Anatidae may be considered to consist of 3 subfamilies (ducks, geese, and swans, essentially) which contain the groups as presented here as tribes, with the swans separated as subfamily Cygninae, the goose subfamily Anserinae also containing the whistling ducks, and the Anatinae containing all other clades.


  • Subfamily: Dendrocygninae (One pantropical genus, of distinctive long-legged goose-like birds)
    • Dendrocygna, whistling ducks (9 living species)
  • Subfamily: Thalassorninae (One genus in Africa, most closely related to the subfamily Dendrocygninae, though also showing convergent similarities to the subfamily Oxyurinae)
    • Thalassornis, White-backed Duck

      Mute Swan
  • Subfamily: Anserinae, swans and geese (Three to seven extant genera with 25–30 living species, mainly cool temperate Northern Hemisphere but also some Southern Hemisphere species, with the swans in one genus [two genera in some treatments], and the geese in three genera [two genera in some treatments]. Some other species are sometimes placed herein, but seem somewhat more distinct [see below])
    • Cygnus, true swans (7 species, 4 sometimes separated in Olor)
    • Anser, grey geese (7 species)
    • Chen, white geese (3 species, sometimes included in Anser)
    • Branta, black geese (8 living species)
  • Subfamily: Stictonettinae (One genus in Australia, formerly included in the Oxyurinae, but with anatomy suggesting a distinct ancient lineage perhaps closest to the Anserinae, especially the Cape Barren Goose)
    • Stictonetta, Freckled Duck
  • Subfamily: Plectropterinae (One genus in Africa, formerly included in the "perching ducks", but closer to the Tadorninae)
    • Plectropterus, Spur-winged Goose
  • Subfamily: Tadorninae – shelducks and sheldgeese 

    Male Common Shelduck
    (This group of larger, often semi-terrestrial waterfowl can be seen as intermediate between Anserinae and Anatinae. The 1986 revision has resulted in the inclusion of 10 extant genera with about two dozen living species [one probably extinct] in this subfamily, mostly from the Southern Hemisphere but a few in the Northern Hemisphere, but the affiliations of several presumed tadornine genera has later been questioned and the group in the traditional lineup is likely to be paraphyletic)
    • Pachyanas, Chatham Island Duck (prehistoric)
    • Tadorna, shelducks (7 species, one probably extinct) – possibly paraphyletic
    • Salvadorina, Salvadori's Teal
    • Centrornis, Madagascar Sheldgoose (prehistoric, tentatively placed here)
    • Alopochen, Egyptian Goose and Mascarene Shelducks (1 living species, 2 extinct)
    • Neochen, Orinoco Goose
    • Chloephaga, sheldgeese (5 species)
    • Hymenolaimus, Blue Duck
    • Merganetta, Torrent Duck

A male mallard duck
  • Subfamily: Anatinae, dabbling ducks and moa-nalos (The dabbling duck group, of worldwide distribution, were previously restricted to just one or two genera, but had been extended to include 8 extant genera and about 55 living species, including several genera formerly known as the "perching ducks"; mtDNA on the other hand confirms that the genus Anas is over-lumped and casts doubt on the diving duck affiliations of several genera [see below]. The moa-nalos, of which 4 species in 3 genera are known to date, are a peculiar group of flightless, extinct Anatidae from the Hawaiian Islands. Gigantic in size and with massive bills, they were believed to be geese, but have been shown to be actually very closely related to mallard. They evolved filling the ecological niche of turtles, ungulates and other megaherbivores.)
    • Anas: wigeons, gadwalls, teals, pintails, mallards, shovelers, etc. (40–50 living species, 3 extinct) – paraphyletic
    • Lophonetta, Crested Duck
    • Speculanas, Bronze-winged Duck
    • Amazonetta, Brazilian Teal
    • Chelychelynechen, Turtle-jawed Moa-nalo (prehistoric)
    • Thambetochen, Large-billed Moa-nalos (2 species, prehistoric)
    • Ptaiochen, Small-billed Moa-nalo (prehistoric)
  • Subfamily: Aythyinae, diving ducks (Some 15 species of diving ducks, of worldwide distribution, in 2–4 genera; The 1986 morphological analysis suggested that the probably extinct Pink-headed Duck of India, previously treated separately in Rhodonessa, should be placed inNetta, but this has been questioned. Furthermore, while morphologically close to dabbling ducks, the mtDNA data indicates that a treatment as distinct subfamily is indeed correct, with the Tadorninae being actually closer to dabbling ducks than the diving ducks are)
    • Netta, Red-crested Pochard and allies (4 species, one probably extinct)
    • Aythya, pochards, scaups, etc. (12 species)
  • Subfamily: Merginae, eiders, scoters, sawbills and other sea-ducks 

    Common Goldeneye couple, male on the right.
    (There are 9 extant genera and some 20 living species; most of this group occur in the Northern Hemisphere, but a few [mostly extinct] mergansers in the Southern Hemisphere)
    • Chendytes, Diving-geese (prehistoric)
    • Polysticta, Steller's Eider
    • Somateria, eiders (3 species)
    • Histrionicus, Harlequin Duck (includes Ocyplonessa)
    • Camptorhynchus, Labrador Duck (extinct)
    • Melanitta, scoters (3 species)
    • Clangula, Long-tailed Duck (1 species)
    • Bucephala, goldeneyes (3 species)
    • Mergellus, Smew
    • Lophodytes, Hooded Merganser
    • Mergus, mergansers (5 living species, one extinct).
  • Subfamily: Oxyurinae, stiff-tail ducks (A small group of 3–4 genera, 2–3 of them monotypic, with 7–8 living species)
    • Oxyura, stiff-tailed ducks (5 living species)
    • Nomonyx, Masked Duck
    • Biziura, Musk Ducks (1 living species, provisionally placed here)
    • Heteronetta, Black-headed Duck
  • Unresolved 

    The rare White-winged Duck, a species of unclear affiliation.

    Wood Duck Aix sponsa
    The largest degree of uncertainty concerns whether a number of genera are closer to the shelducks or to the dabbling ducks. See also the monotypic subfamilies above, and the "perching ducks"
    • Coscoroba, Coscoroba Swan – Anserinae or same subfamily as Cereopsis?
    • Cereopsis, Cape Barren Goose – Anserinae, Tadorninae, or own subfamily?
    • Cnemiornis, New Zealand geese (prehistoric) – as Cereopsis
    • Malacorhynchus, Pink-eared ducks (1 living species) – Tadorninae, Oxyurinae or Dendrocheninae?
    • Sarkidiornis, Comb Duck – Tadorninae or closer to dabbling ducks?
    • Tachyeres, steamer ducks (4 species) – Tadorninae or closer to dabbling ducks?
    • Cyanochen, Blue-winged Goose – Tadorninae or more distant clade?
    • Nettapus, pygmy geese (3 species) – Anatinae or part of Southern Hemisphere radiation?
    • Pteronetta, Hartlaub's Duck – traditionally dabbling ducks, but may be closer to Cyanochen
    • Cairina, Muscovy Duck and White-winged Duck (2 species) – traditionally dabbling ducks, but may be paraphyletic, with one species in Tadorninae and the other closer to diving ducks
    • Aix, Mandarin Duck and Wood Duck (2 species) – dabbling ducks or Tadorninae?
    • Callonetta, Ringed Teal – dabbling ducks or Tadorninae?
    • Chenonetta, Maned Duck (1 living species) – dabbling ducks or Tadorninae? IncludesEuryanas.
    • Marmaronetta, Marbled Duck – Formerly dabbling ducks; actually a diving duck or a distinct subfamily

Prehistoric species

The Maned Duck is the only living member of the genus Chenonetta
From subfossil bones found on Kauaʻi (Hawaiian Islands), two enigmatic waterfowl are known.The living and assignable prehistoric avifauna of the archipelago contains as Anseriformes Brantageese and their descendants, and the moa-nalos as mentioned above. The following taxa, although certainly new species, cannot be assigned even to subfamily; that Kauaʻi is the oldest of the large Hawaiian Islands, meaning the species may have been evolving in isolation for nearly up to 10 mya(since the Late Miocene), does not help in determining their affinities:
  • Long-legged "Shelduck", Anatidae sp. et gen. indet.
  • Talpanas
Similarly, Geochen rhuax from the Big Island of Hawaiʻi, and a gigantic goose-like anatid from Oʻahu are known only from very incomplete and in the former case much damaged bone fragments. The former has been alleged to be a shelduck, but this was generally dismissed because of the damage to the material and biogeographic considerations. The long-legged Kauaʻi bird, however, hints at the possibility of a former tadornine presence on the archipelago.

Fossil Anatidae

The fossil record of anatids is extensive, but many prehistoric genera cannot be unequivocally assigned to present-day subfamilies for the reasons given above. For prehistoric species of extant genera, see the respective genus accounts.
Dendrocheninae – a more advanced relative of the whistling-ducks or an ancestral relative of stifftail ducks paralleling whistling-ducks; if not extinct possibly belong in Oxyurinae (including Malacorhynchus)
  • Mionetta (Late Oligocene – Middle Miocene of C Europe) – includes "Anas" blanchardi"A." consobrina"A." natator"Aythya" arvernensis
  • Manuherikia (Bathans Early/Middle Miocene of Otago, New Zealand)
  • Dendrochen (Early – Late? Miocene) – includes "Anas" integra"A." oligocaena
  • Dendrocheninae gen. et sp. indet. (Late Miocene of Argentina)
  • Cygnavus (Early Oligocene of Kazakhstan – Early Miocene of Germany)
  • Cygnopterus (Middle Oligocene of Belgium – Early Miocene of France) – sometimes included in Cygnavus
  • Megalodytes (Middle Miocene of California, USA)
  • "cf. Megalodytes" (Haraichi Middle Miocene of Annaka, Japan)
  • Anserobranta (Late Miocene of C Europe) – includes "Anas" robusta, validity doubtful
  • Presbychen (Temblor Late Miocene of Sharktooth Hill, USA)
  • Afrocygnus (Late Miocene – Early Pliocene of EC Africa)
  • Paracygnus (Kimball Late Pliocene of Nebraska, USA)
  • Eremochen (Pliocene)
  • Australotadorna (Late Oligocene – Early Miocene of Australia)
  • Miotadorna (Bathans Early/Middle Miocene of Otago, New Zealand)
  • Tadorninae gen. et sp. indet. (Calvert Middle Miocene of Maryland, USA)
  • Balcanas (Early Pliocene of Dorkovo, Bulgaria) – may be synonym of Tadorna or even Common Shelduck
  • Anabernicula (Late Pliocene ?– Late Pleistocene of SW and W North America)
  • Brantadorna (Middle Pleistocene of Vallecito Creek, USA)
  • Nannonetta (Late Pleistocene of Peru)
  • Sinanas (Middle Miocene)
  • Wasonaka (Middle Pliocene)
  • Pinpanetta (Late Oligocene – Early Miocene of Australia)
  • Dunstanetta (Bathans Early/Middle Miocene of Otago, New Zealand) – tentatively placed here
  • Tirarinetta (Pliocene of Australia)
Incertae sedis
  • "Anas" luederitzensis (Kalahari Early Miocene of Lüderitzbucht, Namibia) – anatine?
  • Matanas (Bathans Early/Middle Miocene of Otago, New Zealand)
  • Anatidae gen. et sp. indet. MNZ S42797 (Bathans Early/Middle Miocene of Otago, New Zealand)
  • "Oxura" doksana (Early Miocene of Dolnice, Czechia)
  • "Aythya" chauvirae (Middle Miocene of Sansan, France and Credinţa, Romania) – 2 species
  • Anatidae gen. et sp. indet. (Middle Miocene of Nördlinger Ries, Germany) – tadornine?
  • Anatidae gen. et sp. indet. (Sajóvölgyi Middle Miocene of Mátraszõlõs, Hungary)[12]
  • "Anas" meyerii (Middle Miocene of Öhningen, Germany) Described from a single badly crushed tarsometatarsus and phalanges. This species was named in 1867 by Milne-Edwards and then recombined in 1964 by Brodkorb to the genus Aythya. This species is currently regarded as Aves incertae sedis.[13]
  • "Anas" velox (Middle - Late? Miocene of C Europe) – anatine? May include "A." meyerii
  • "Anas" albae (Late Miocene of Polgárdi, Hungary) – mergine? Formerly in Mergus
  • "Anas" isarensis (Late Miocene of Aumeister, Germany) – anatine?
  • "Anser" scaldii (Late Miocene of Antwerp, Belgium) – anserine or tadornine
  • Anatidae gen. et sp. indet. (Waite Late Miocene of Alcoota, Australia) – anatine, oxyurine?
  • Anatidae gen. et sp. indet. (Waite Late Miocene of Alcoota, Australia) – tadornine?
  • "Anas" eppelsheimensis (Early Pliocene of Eppelsheim, Germany) – anatine?
  • Aldabranas (Late Pleistocene of Aldabra, Indian Ocean) – anatine or tadornine
  • "Chenopis" nanus (Pleistocene of Australia) – at least 2 taxa, may be living species
Putative or disputed prehistoric anatids are:
  • Romainvillia (Late Eocene/Early Oligocene) – anseranatid or anatid (own subfamily)
  • Loxornis (Deseado Early Oligocene of Argentina)
  • Paracygnopterus (Early Oligocene of Belgium and England)
  • Teleornis (Deseado Early Oligocene of Argentina)
  • Guguschia (Late Oligocene of Pirəkəşkül, Azerbaijan) – anserine or Pelagornithidae (same as Caspiodontornis?)
  • Chenornis (Early Miocene) – anserine or Phalacrocoracidae
  • Paranyroca (Rosebud Early Miocene of Bennett County, USA) – anatid (own subfamily) or distinct family?
  • Eoneornis (Miocene of Argentina) – anatine? A nomen dubium
  • Eutelornis (Miocene of Argentina) – anatine?
The Middle Oligocene Limicorallus (from Chelkar-Teniz (Kazakhstan) was sometimes considered an anserine. It is, however, a primitive cormorant. The middle Eocene Eonessa wa formerly thought to belong to Anatidae, however reexamination of the holotype in 1978 resulted in the genus being placed as Aves incertae sedis

>Fratercula cirrhata (Tufted Puffin)

Tufted Puffin

Tufted Puffin
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Species:F. cirrhata
Binomial name
Fratercula cirrhata
(Pallas, 1769)
Lunda cirrhata
The Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) also known as Crested Puffin, is a relatively abundant medium-sized pelagic seabird in the auk (Alcidae) family found throughout the North Pacific Ocean. It is one of three species of puffin that make up the Fratercula genus and is easily recognizable by its thick red bill and yellow tufts.


The Tufted Puffin was first described in 1769 by German zoologist Peter Simon Pallas. Its generic name is derived from the Latin Fratercula 'little brother' and the specific epithet,cirrhata 'tufted'. Since it may be more closely related to the Rhinoceros Auklet than the other puffins it is sometimes placed in the genus Lunda.


Tufted Puffin outside of burrow on Kuril Islands
Tufted Puffins are around 35 cm (15 in) in length with a similar wingspan and weigh about three quarters of a kilogram (1.6 lbs). Birds from the western Pacific population are somewhat larger than those from the eastern Pacific, and male birds tend to be slightly larger than females.
They are mostly black with a white facial patch, and, typical of other puffin species, feature a very thick bill which is mostly red with some yellow and occasionally green markings. Their most distinctive feature and namesake are the yellow tufts (Latincirri) that appear annually on birds of both sexes as the summer reproductive season approaches. Their feet become bright red and their face also becomes bright white in the summer. During the feeding season, the tufts moult off and the plumage, beak and legs lose much of their lustre.

Tufted Puffin in winter plumage
As among other alcids, the wings are relatively short, adapted for diving, underwater swimming and capturing prey rather than gliding, of which they are incapable. As a consequence, they have thick, dark myoglobin-rich breast muscles adapted for a fast and aerobically strenuous wing-beat cadence, which they can nonetheless maintain for long periods of time.
Juvenile puffins resemble winter adults, but with a grey-brown breast, white belly, and a shallow, brown bill.

Distribution and habitat

Tufted Puffins form dense breeding colonies during the summer reproductive season from British Columbia, throughout southeastern Alaska and the Aleutian IslandsKamchatka, the Kuril Islands and throughout the Sea of Okhotsk. While they share some habitat with Horned Puffins (F. corniculata), the range of the Tufted Puffin is generally more southern. They have been known to nest in small numbers as far south as the northern Channel Islands, off southern California. However, the last confirmed sighting at the Channel Islands occurred in 1997.
Tufted Puffins typically select islands or cliffs that are relatively inaccessible to predators, close to productive waters, and high enough that they can take to the air successfully. Ideal habitat is steep but with a relatively soft soil substrate and grass for the creation of burrows.
During the winter feeding season, they spend their time almost exclusively at sea, extending their range throughout the North Pacific and south to Japan and California.



Breeding takes place on isolated islands: over 25,000 pairs have been recorded in a single colony off the coast of British Columbia. The nest is usually a simple burrow dug with the bill and feet, but sometimes a crevice between rocks is used instead. It is well-lined with vegetation and feathers. Courtship occurs through skypointing, strutting, and billing. A single egg is laid, usually in June, and incubated by both parents for about 45 days. Fledglings leave the nest at between 40 and 55 days.


Swimming at the Henry Doorly Zoo
Tufted Puffins feed almost exclusively on fish, which they catch by diving from the surface. Adults may also feed on squid or other invertebrates. Feeding areas can be located far offshore from the nesting areas. Puffins can store large quantities of small fish in their bills and carry them to their chicks.

Predators and threats

Tufted Puffins are preyed upon by various avian raptors such as Snowy Owls, Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons, and mammals like the Arctic Foxes. Foxes seem to prefer the puffin over other birds, making the bird a main target. Choosing inaccessible cliffs and entirely mammal-free islands protects them from terrestrial predators while laying eggs in burrows is effective in protecting them from egg-scavengers like gulls and ravens.

Conservation Status in Puget Sound

Many rules and regulations have been set out to try to conserve fishes and shorebirds in Puget Sound. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) of Washington State has created aquatic reserves surrounding Smith and Minor Islands. Over 36,000 acres (150 km2) of tidelands and seafloor habitat were included in the proposed aquatic reserve. Not only do these islands provide the necessary habitat for many seabirds such as tufted puffins and marine mammals, but this area also contains the largest kelp beds in all of Puget Sound. In addition, Protection Island reserve has also been off limits to the public to aid marine birds in breeding. Protection Island contains one of the last two nesting colonies of puffins in Puget Sound, and about 70% of the tufted puffin population nests on this island.

Puffins and man

Tufted Puffin drawn in 1895
The Aleut and Ainu people of the North Pacific traditionally hunted Tufted Puffin for food and feathers. Skins were used to make tough parkas worn feather side in and the silky tufts were sewn into ornamental work. Currently, harvesting of Tufted Puffin is illegal or discouraged throughout its range.

>Fratercula corniculata (Horned Puffin)

Horned Puffin

Horned Puffin
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Species:F. corniculata
Binomial name
Fratercula corniculata
(Naumann, JF, 1821)
The Horned Puffin (Fratercula corniculata) is an auk, similar in appearance to the Atlantic Puffin; this bird's bill is yellow at the base and red at the tip. It is a pelagic seabird that feeds primarily by diving for fish. It nests in colonies, often with other auks.
The yellow bill plate grows before the breeding season and is shed later. They have a small fleshy black "horn" above their eyes. They have a white face with a dark line extending from the back of the eye and red feet.
This species breeds on rocky islands off the coasts of SiberiaAlaska and British Columbia, in burrows, in rocky cavities or among rocks. It winters far out to sea. Feeding areas are usually located fairly far offshore from the nest. There is usually one chick and both parents feed the young.
Horned Puffins will return from hunting with several small fish in their beaks. They also eat squid and crustaceans.
The population of these birds has declined due to the introduction of rats onto some islands used for nesting.

Horned Puffin, Hall Island

>Fratercula arctica (Atlantic Puffin)

Atlantic Puffin

Atlantic Puffin
Adults in breeding plumage, Lunga (Treshnish Isles,Scotland)
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Species:F. arctica
Binomial name
Fratercula arctica
Alca arctica Linnaeus, 1758
The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) is a seabird species in the auk family. It is a pelagic bird that feeds primarily by diving for fish, but also eats other sea creatures, such as  squid and crustaceans. Its most obvious characteristic during the breeding season is its brightly coloured bill. Also known as the Common Puffin, it is the only puffin species which is found in the Atlantic Ocean. The curious appearance of the bird, with its large colourful bill and its striking piebald plumage, has given rise to nicknames such as '"clown of the ocean" and "sea parrot". The Atlantic Puffin is the provincial bird for the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.


The Atlantic Puffin is 26–29 centimetres (10–11 in) in length (bill 3–4 cm), with a 47–63 centimetres (19–25 in) wingspan. The male is generally slightly larger than the female, but they are coloured alike. This bird is mainly black above and white below, with grey to white cheeks and red-orange legs. The bill is large and triangular and during the breeding season is bright orange with a patch of blue bordered by yellow at the rear. The characteristic bright orange bill plates grow before the breeding season and are shed after breeding. The bills are used in courtship rituals, such as the pair tapping their bills together. During flight, it appears to have grey round underwings and a white body; it has a direct flight low over the water. The related Horned Puffin (Fratercula corniculata) from the North Pacific looks very similar but has slightly different head ornaments.
The Atlantic Puffin is typically silent at sea, except for soft purring sounds it sometimes makes in flight. At the breeding colonies, its commonest call is a trisyllabic kaa-aar-aar and the birds make a short growl when startled.

Distribution and ecology

An adult returning with sand eels to feed the single chick
This species breeds on the coasts of northern Europe, the Faroe IslandsIceland and eastern North America, from well within the Arctic Circle to northern France and Maine. The winter months are spent at sea far from land - in Europe as far south as the Mediterranean, and in North America to North Carolina.
About 95% of the Atlantic puffins in North America breed around Newfoundland's coastlines. The largest puffin colony in the western Atlantic (estimated at more than 260,000 pairs) can be found at the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, south of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Puffin viewing has also started to become popular in Elliston Newfoundland, previously named Bird Island Cove, located near Trinity. Here, puffins have been known to be tame enough to get even 2 or 3 feet away from them.
Predators of the Atlantic Puffin include the Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus), the Great Skua(Stercorarius skua), and similar-sized species, which can catch a puffin in flight, or pick off one separated from the colony. Smaller gull species like the Herring Gull (L. argentatus) which are hardly able to bring down a healthy adult puffin, take eggs or recently hatched chicks, and will also steal fish.


Feeding areas are often located 100 km (60 mi) or more, offshore from the nest sites  — although when provisioning young the birds venture out only half that distance. Atlantic Puffins can dive to depths of up to 70 m (200 ft) and are propelled through the water by their powerful wings, which are adapted for swimming; the webbed feet are used as a rudder while submerged. When hunting, Puffins may collect several small fish, such as herring, sprats and sand eels, zooplankton, crustaceans and mollusks. The tongue is used to hold the fish against spines in the palate, leaving the bill free to open to catch more fish. The fish, which may number up to twelve, are held in the bill with the heads facing in alternate directions.


Adults on nesting grounds (note burrows). Lunga (Treshnish Isles, Scotland)
Puffin attacks razorbill.ogv
Atlantic Puffin defending its burrow from a pair of Razorbills, Lundy
The Atlantic Puffin is sexually mature at the age of 4–5 years; the species is monogamous and gives biparental care. They are colonial nesters, excavating burrows on grassy cliffs — they will also nest amongst rocks and scree. The species can face competition from other burrow nesting animals such as Rabbits, Manx Shearwaters and occasionally Razorbills. Male puffins perform most of the work of excavating or clearing out the nest area, which is sometimes lined with plants, feathers or seaweed. The only time spent on land is to nest; mates are found prior to arriving at the colonies, and mating takes place at sea.

Appearance of beak and eyes during the breeding season (left) and after the molt (right; lettered items have dropped off).
A single-egg clutch is produced each year, and incubation responsibilities are shared between both parents. Total incubation time is around 39–45 days, and the chick takes about 49 days to fledge. At fledging, the chick leaves the burrow unaccompanied, usually during the evening, and flies or swims out to sea. Contrary to popular belief, young puffins are not abandoned by their parents (although this does occur in some other seabirds, such as shearwaters). Synchronous laying of eggs is found in Atlantic Puffins in adjacent burrows.
The eyes and beak of the male have a special appearance, acquired in the spring, during the breeding season. At the close of the breeding season, these special coatings and appendages drop off in a molt.

Relationship with humans

Puffin hunters, Faroe Islands, 1898 or 1899

On remote Stóra Dímun, puffins are still important food today.


The population of these birds was greatly reduced in the nineteenth century, when they were hunted for meat and eggs. Atlantic Puffins are still hunted and eaten, but the effect of this on populations is insignificant compared to other threats. On the Faroe Islands, for example, the birds may be hunted for local consumption after the breeding season, when excess birds are available.

Status and conservation

More recent population declines may have been due to increased predation by gulls and skuas, the introduction of rats, cats, dogs and foxes onto some islands used for nesting, contamination by toxic residues, drowning in fishing nets, declining food supplies, and climate change.
On the island of Lundy the number has decreased dramatically in recent years (the 2005 breeding population was estimated to be only two or three pairs) as a consequence of depredations by black rats (recently eliminated) and possibly also as a result of commercial fishing for sand eels, the puffins' principal prey.
On the other hand, puffin numbers increased considerably in the late twentieth century in the North Sea, including on the Isle of May and the Farne Islands. Numbers have been increasing by about 10% per year in recent years. In the 2006 breeding season, about 68,000 pairs were counted on the Isle of May. However, Iceland has many times as many breeding pairs with the Puffin ( lundi in Icelandic) the most populous bird on the island. In 2008 declines were reported in the Farne Islands and Isle of May colonies.
Reintroduction projects have taken place on a number of islands, including one on the coast of Maine titled Project Puffin, and these have given local boosts to some Puffin populations.
Since the Atlantic Puffin spends its winters on the open ocean, it is susceptible to human impacts such as oil spills. If an accidental oil spill occurs and pelagic birds are exposed, toxins are inhaled or ingested which leads to kidney and liver damage. This damage can contribute to a loss of reproductive success and damage to developing embryos. Oil spills may also have indirect effects. The Atlantic Puffin and other pelagic birds are excellent bioindicators of the environment because they are near the top of the food chain in the ocean. Since the primary food source for Atlantic Puffins is fish, there is a great potential to bioaccumulate heavy metals from the environment. Heavy metals enter the environment through oil spills — such as the Prestige oil spill on the Galician coast — or from other natural or anthropogenic sources. In order to determine the effects on pelagic birds such as the Atlantic Puffin, quantifiable measurements must be taken. In the field, scientists obtain contaminant measurements from eggs, feathers or internal organs.

Flying over the Isle of May, Scotland
Since the Atlantic Puffin gets the majority of its food by diving, it is important that there is an ample supply of resources and food. Different environmental conditions such as tidal cycle, upwellings and downwellings contribute to this abundance. In a study published in 2005 it was observed that Atlantic Puffins were associated with areas of well-mixed water below the surface. This study implies consequences for the species if global warming leads to an alteration of tidal cycles. If these cycles are modified too much it is probable that the Atlantic Puffin will have a difficult time locating food resources. Another consequence of an increase in temperature could be a reduction in the range of the Atlantic Puffin, as it is only able to live in cool conditions and does not fare overly well if it has to nest in barren, rocky places, and an increase in temperature could thus squeeze the zone of puffin-suitable habitat as warmer biotopes expand from the equator but the polar regions remain barren due to lack of historical accumulation of topsoil.
SOS Puffin is a conservation project based from the Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick to save the puffins on islands in the Firth of Forth. Puffin numbers on the island of Craigleith, once one of the larest colonies in Scotland, with 28,000 pairs, have crashed to just a few thousand due to the invasion of a giant alien plant Tree Mallow, Lavatera arborea, which has taken over the island and prevented the puffins from accessing their burrows and breeding. The project has the support of over 450 volunteers and progress is being made with puffins returning in numbers to breed this year.

In culture

Faroe Islands 1978 postal stamp FR 31 by Holger Philipsen
The name puffin – puffed in the sense of swollen – was originally applied to the fatty salted meat of young birds of the unrelated species Manx ShearwaterPuffinus puffinus. Both species nest in burrows on off-shore islands and the name was applied to the meat of either and was formally applied to F. arctica by Pennant in 1768.
The scientific name comes from the Medieval Latin fraterculafriar, and arctica, northern.
The Atlantic Puffin is the provincial bird of Newfoundland and Labrador. The Norwegian municipality of Værøy has an Atlantic Puffin in its coat-of-arms. In August 2007, the Atlantic Puffin was proposed as the official symbol of the Liberal Party of Canada by its deputy leader Michael Ignatieff, after he observed a colony of these birds and became fascinated by their behaviour.
The island of Lundy's name is derived from the Norse lunde for the puffins that nest on the island. Puffins also appeared on the coins and stamps of the island and a value expressed in 'Puffins'.



  • On Machias Seal Island, Gulf of Maine

  • Juvenile

  • On Machias Seal Island, Gulf of Maine

  • Adult in flight

  • Fish for the young, Faroe Islands

  • On Lundy Island

  • On Látrabjarg, Iceland