Every summer, puffins — like this Horned Puffin — grow blazingly colorful layers over the bases of their huge beaks. But in the winter, puffins lead very different lives, and they shed their bright ornamentation. Puffins in winter are largely solitary — and silent. They spend about seven months alone at sea, before returning once again to their colonies to breed.
In Winter, Puffins Lead Very Different Lives
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote.
Puffins are boldly colorful icons of northern islands and sea cliffs, where they nest in dense colonies during the summer. In the spring, puffins grow thin, blazingly colorful layers over the base of their huge beaks. Some species’ beaks turn vivid yellow; others, a bright red or orange. And they make all kinds of noise.
[Tufted Puffin adult call]
In winter, however, puffins lead very different lives. For one thing, winter puffins are not nearly so fancy. Once their chicks fledge in late summer, adult puffins shed the ornaments that wowed their mates in spring. Their beaks turn a dull orange. And their bright white summer faces turn a sooty color.
Tufted Puffins, named for their long blond head tufts, go tuft-less in winter. Horned Puffins lose the fleshy “horns” above their eyes.
And puffins in winter go silent as well.
The birds depart their nesting cliffs by September and head for the open ocean. Three species winter in the North Pacific (including the very puffin-like Rhinocerous Auklet) and one in the North Atlantic. Puffins remain largely solitary for the seven months of the year they spend at sea.
But as winter gives way to spring, the clowns of the cliffs return, once again outfitted in their finest colors.
[Tufted Puffin adult call ]
For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. ML3863 and ML3861 recorded by E Booth. Ocean ambi recorded by Chris Peterson.
BirdNote’s theme composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Managing Producer: Jason Saul
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
© 2018 Tune In to Nature.org November 2018/2021 Narrator: Michael Stein
ID# puffin-02-2018-11-16 puffin-02