Wildlife In Focus | Atlantic Puffins

David Coultham

Updated on:

The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica), often called the Common Puffin, is a seabird in the Auk family.

Click here to display content from YouTube.
Learn more in YouTube’s privacy policy.

Video | All you Need To Know About The Atlantic Puffin


There are an estimated 580 thousand breeding pairs in the U.K. each year. However, over the last few years, their numbers have reduced drastically in some of their strongest breeding colonies (Farne Islands and the Isle of May). Consequently, they are registered as a Red Species from a U.K. standpoint. In 2015 the International Union for Conservation of Nature changed their status from “Least Concern” to “Vulnerable” due to the global decline in their numbers.

Conservation Status

Conservation Status

The biggest threat to puffins is climate change. Rising sea temperatures have caused the fish that puffins eat to migrate north in large numbers. This combined with human overfishing has played a huge part in the puffin’s decline. Further, climate change has brought with it a redistribution of ground predators such as rats, wild cats, and mink.

DID YOU KNOW? Atlantic Puffins were first recorded in the U.K. in Medieval Times.

Atlantic Puffin


Atlantic Puffins feed on small fish such as white bait. Puffins can swim quite adeptly, catching their prey by diving deep underwater and using their wings to propel themselves.


Atlantic Puffins inhabit the open ocean whilst not breeding. When nesting they favor grassy cliff-tops and islands, and sometimes boulders at the foot of cliffs. The Atlantic Puffin’s main breeding grounds are Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Newfoundland, Labrador, Faroe Islands, and the west of the UK.

Puffin Distribution Map

Distribution data is a rough illustration based on UKG data.3


Compared to other birds in the Auk family, the Atlantic Puffin is unmistakable. They have a very distinctive shaped brightly colored bill. They sport black head caps, white face cheeks, black wings, and a white breast. Their eyes have a bright orange ring, and they also have orange legs. However, during the winter, the bills and feet of puffins fade to dull shades compared to their summer plumage.


Atlantic Puffins spend the autumn and winter months in the open oceans of the cold northern seas. The Atlantic puffins return to coastal waters in the late spring to start breeding. Nesting in clifftop colonies, breeding pairs typically burrow into the ground or use old rabbit burrows. The females lay a single egg which is incubated for 39 days.

Atlantic Puffin Call

Stanislas Wroza, xeno-canto.org

While puffins do not mate for life, they are quite monogamous. Breeding pairs rarely change mates, and couples usually return to the same nesting sites year after year.

A puffin chick is called a puffling and takes only 6 weeks to be fully-fledged from hatching. The pufflings can eat whole fish, and when fully-fledged make their way into the sea. However, the juveniles are unable to fly, so instead tumble down the cliffs and into the sea. This they do at night to avoid gull and skua attacks. Once at sea, the juveniles learn to fish for themselves, as well as fly. Returning to their colony yearly, but not breeding until they are at least 4 years old.

General STATS

Adults weigh up to 450g with a wing length of up to 167mm. Puffins typically live up to 20 years.

DID YOU KNOW? The oldest recorded Atlantic Puffin was just over 42 years old!

Natural Predators

Because colonies are predominantly on islands, puffins have no terrestrial predators. Puffins are known to fall prey to eagles, and young chicks are at risk of attacks by gulls and skuas. Even adult puffins sometimes fall victim to skuas harassing them to steal their food.


International Union for Conservation of Nature

BirdLife International

Distribution: JNCC Data


Cookie Consent with Real Cookie Banner