By Dave Hanks
From our youth, most of us remember the poem by Florence Page Jaques which goes: “Oh, there once was a Puffin just the shape of a muffin, and he lived on an island in the bright, blue sea! He ate little fishes, that were most delicious.”
Puffins are stocky, hardy birds that spend most of their life at sea – coming on land only when nesting. They are difficult birds to observe. They would rather dive than fly when disturbed. They have large heads and grooved beaks. The colorful beaks have gained them the nick name of “Sea Parrot.” They are members of the Auk Family, which contains 21 species – all of which have colorful beaks. Webbed feet aid their swimming. Water repellent, air-trapping feathers, along with a layer of fat keeps them warm in cold waters.
These birds nest on high, rocky cliffs on islands of the sea, as stated in the poem. Their nests are mostly in burrows, except for the Horned Puffin that nests in the rocks. They don’t sit on their eggs, but lie against them and cover them with a wing. Fish are carried to their young crosswise in their beaks.
We have seen these birds in Monterrey Bay, California; New Port Bay, Oregon, and on boat trips in the Bay of Alaska. However, to observe them close up, sea life aquariums are available. Some of the better known American species are the Tufted Puffin, the Horned Puffin, the Arctic Puffin, and the Atlantic Puffin.
Even though they are hard species to observe, either upon the sea or on the islands where they nest, they are one of my wife’s favorites. Carolyn likes them because they are so chubby and cute – also because of their intriguing life style.