Iceland Mag

8 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


5 Things you need to know about Puffins

By Sara McMahon

  • Both parents care for the young. Puffins spend the autumn and winter at sea but return to land to breed in late spring. Photo/Stefán Karlsson

The Atlantic Puffin, also known as the Common Puffin, is species of sea-bird in the auk family that breeds in and around Iceland. This small, sturdy bird with the colourful beak goes under the name „Lundi“ in Icelandic and has i.e. become an emblem for the Westman Islands archipelago.


1. The puffin leads a solitary life when out at sea, where it bobs around all day long, propelling itself through the water with powerful thrusts of its feet – even while roosting. Its downy under-plumage provides necessary thermal insulation and its black and white body provides the ideal camouflage; Aerial predators are unable to spot the Puffin against the dark watery background while underwater ones fail to notice the bird as it blends perfectly in with the bright sky above.

2. Puffins spend the autumn and winter out at sea but return to land to breed in late spring. Iceland is the home to more than half of the wold’s puffin population. However, over the past decade the puffin population has been in decline, possibly because of shifting fish population as ocean temperatures rise.

3. Puffins are usually monogamous and return to the same burrows year after year. Both parents care for their young. The male spends most of his time guarding and maintaining the nest while the female incubates.

4. The Puffin lays only a single egg each spring. The chick spends most of its day inside its burrow, feeding mostly on small fish. When it becomes fully fledged, around 49 days old, it leaves its burrow and does not return to land for several years.

5. The parents will leave their chick when it is around 40 days old. Hunger will drive the chick to leave its dwellings. It then will walk, run or flap its way out to sea where it will spend the next years. In the Westman Islands it is not uncommon to find confused chicks wandering the streets during that time of year. Locals will catch the chicks, feed them and then have them weighed and measured before releasing them.    

A puffin.Photo/Stefán Karlsson


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