This is the small, but not tiny, auk of the North Atlantic. It breeds from France North to Novaya Zemlaya and Svarlbad, Greenland and down to New England. It breeds in holes and burrows that it excavates in the soil on sea-cliffs and islands. Sometimes it undermines the habitat which then blows away!
The birds are striking in breeding plumage with bright orange feet and an unmistakable ornate bill with red, yellow and blue stripes. The facial disc is off white (dusky and even partly black outside the breeding season) with the top of the head, back of the neck, mantle, wings and tail black. The underparts are white. In the winter the excrescences on the bill are moulted and it decreases in size.
These birds feed on fish (mainly sand-eels) in the summer but in the winter they become pelagic and it is possible that they mainly feed on plankton. Colonies are magic places full of sound and movement - and birds. There are many colonies with more than 10,000 active burrows. In Britain and Ireland there are just under a million individuals.
The small auk of the Atlantic with the enormous bill.
The following Bird On! picture is available:
Puffin (Watercolour by Robert Gillmor)
Length 275 mm Closed wing 160 mm Weight 420 gms
A Bird On! Sketch by Chris Mead
Copyright © 1996 by Jacobi Jayne & Company and Chris Mead