Map: Puffin range

Atlantic Puffin Range


Fast Facts

Average life span in the wild:
20 years or more
10 in (25 cm)
17.5 oz (500 g)
Group name:
Size relative to a teacup:
Illustration: Puffin compared with tea cup

Atlantic puffins have penguin-like coloring but they sport a colorful beak that has led some to dub them the "sea parrot." The beak fades to a drab gray during the winter and blooms with color again in the spring—suggesting that it may be attractive to potential mates.

These birds live most of their lives at sea, resting on the waves when not swimming. They are excellent swimmers that use their wings to stroke underwater with a flying motion. They steer with rudderlike webbed feet and can dive to depths of 200 feet (61 meters), though they usually stay underwater for only 20 or 30 seconds. Puffins typically hunt small fish like herring or sand eels.

In the air, puffins are surprisingly fleet flyers. By flapping their wings up to 400 times per minute they can reach speeds of 55 miles (88 kilometers) an hour.

Atlantic puffins land on North Atlantic seacoasts and islands to form breeding colonies each spring and summer. Iceland is the breeding home of perhaps 60 percent of the world's Atlantic puffins. The birds often select precipitous, rocky cliff tops to build their nests, which they line with feathers or grass. Females lay a single egg, and both parents take turns incubating it. When a chick hatches, its parents take turns feeding it by carrying small fish back to the nest in their relatively spacious bills. Puffin couples often reunite at the same burrow site each year. It is unclear how these birds navigate back to their home grounds. They may use visual reference points, smells, sounds, the Earth's magnetic fields—or perhaps even the stars.

Bird Features

  • Picture of a whooping crane in New Orleans, Louisiana

    A Flight of Birds

    See a whooping crane, a Javan rhinoceros hornbill, and more stunning birds photographed by Joel Sartore.

  • Illustration of great horned owl

    What's That Bird?

    Identify your backyard visitors in a flash! Just answer four simple questions to search our database of 150 backyard birds common to Canada and the U.S.

  • Picture of a brown pelican


    Explore the pelican’s prodigious pouch. Find out how these famous fishers bring home the catch of the day.

  • Photo: Close-up of a duck

    Bird Pictures

    Get right up close to 12 colorful new bird galleries, featuring photos from My Shot members and classic art from the NG archives.