Tufted puffin

(Fratercula cirrhata)

Habitat and Distribution: Found nesting on the slopes of seaward cliffs from northwestern Alaska to northern California, or out at sea throughout the North Pacific. Also found on the northern coast of Asia.    

Size: 14-16 inches tall; 700-840 grams

Wild Diet: Saltwater fish including smelt, sardines, herring, and perch; also invertebrates such as krill and mollusks.

Predators: Sharks, large seabirds, snowy owls, bald eagles, and Arctic foxes

Reproduction: Tufted puffins are mostly monogamous and breed in spring. They nest on seaward cliffs in large colonies and dig burrows or use rock crevices for nesting sites. Burrows are about 7 inches high, 8 inches wide, and 3-6 feet deep. Females lay one egg per year, which both parents incubate for 36-47 days. After the puffling has hatched, it stays in the burrow for 1-2 months while parents take turns bringing it food.

Behavior: On the open sea, puffins are usually seen swimming alone, but near breeding sites they gather in large flocks and are highly social. They court mates by skypointing, strutting, and rubbing their bills together. To defend their burrows they spread their wings, open their bills wide, stomp their feet, and wrestle or kick the intruder. Waterproof feathers and the ability to drink sea water enable long periods at sea, but they return every year to the colony where they were born.


IUCN Status: Least Concern

Although tufted puffins are not threatened overall, their numbers are decreasing in some places. The major threats to tufted puffins are ocean pollution, oil spills, and overfishing of the small fish that make up their diet. Seabird protection policies in Alaska have proven effective in reducing human interference with nesting populations.

Did you know?

  • Tufted puffins can hold their breath for up to two minutes.
  • They often run across the water before taking off.