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HomeSpits­ber­gen infor­ma­ti­onWild­life → Atlan­tic puf­fin

Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica)


Puf­fins on Bear Island (Bjørnøya).

Descrip­ti­on: The Atlan­tic puf­fin is a rela­tively small mem­ber of the fami­ly of the alcids (length 30 cm, weight 320-550 g). Puf­fins in Sval­bard are slight­ly lar­ger than birds of the same spe­ci­es in the sub-Arc­tic (Ice­land, Færøe Islands, Scot­land, Jan May­en, nor­t­hern Nor­way). In sum­mer it is unmist­aka­ble due to its strong, colourful beak.

Puffins, Jan Mayen

Puf­fins on Kval­ros­sen, Jan May­en.

Distribution/Migrations: Puf­fins breed main­ly in the sub-Arc­tic, also in smal­ler num­bers in high Arc­tic are­as in the Atlan­tic (the­re is a simi­lar spe­ci­es in the nor­t­hern Paci­fic). Most birds in Sval­bard breed on Bjørnøya, but others are at home on the west and north coasts of Spits­ber­gen and as far as Sjuøya­ne, but in much smal­ler colo­nies com­pared to tho­se in the sub-Arc­tic. The­re are a sur­pri­sin­gly lar­ge num­ber of Puf­fins bree­ding on Ves­le Tav­leøya north in Sjuøya­ne, the nor­t­hern­most part of Sval­bard.

Puffins, Foynøya

Puf­fins on Foynøya, nor­the­as­tern Sval­bard.

The win­tering are­as are not exact­ly known but will be some­whe­re in the north Atlan­tic. Puf­fins return ear­ly to their bree­ding sites in ear­ly or mid May and stay well into August.

Bio­lo­gy: In the sub-Arc­tic, Puf­fins breed in lar­ge num­bers in small caves on the top edge of steep cliffs. Lack of sui­ta­ble soil and per­ma­frost make this most­ly impos­si­ble in Sval­bard, so they have to breed on led­ges of steep cliffs, as other auks, and occa­sio­nal­ly in cre­vices bet­ween lar­ge bould­ers. Colo­nies are smal­ler and less den­se than fur­ther south. Both par­ents incu­ba­te the sin­gle egg for six weeks. The chick stays at the nest for ano­ther five to ten weeks, until it is able to fly.

The slow repro­duc­tion rate is balan­ced by a high life expec­tancy: Once a Puf­fin is ful­ly grown, it has a good chan­ce to reach an age of 30 years or even more.

Puffins, Hinlopen Strait

Puf­fins in Hin­lo­pen Strait.

Mis­cel­la­neous: Don’t expect obser­va­ti­on oppor­tu­ni­ties in Spits­ber­gen as good as in Ice­land, the Færøer Islands, Scot­land or Nor­way, but the­re is often a Puf­fin fly­ing by. Recent years have seen dra­ma­tic col­lap­ses of bree­ding colo­nies for exam­p­le in Lofo­ten (Nor­way) for reasons that are not yet ful­ly unders­tood, but over­fi­shing is likely to be an important fac­tor, direct­ly or indi­rect­ly. Esti­ma­tes for the total popu­la­ti­on in Sval­bard are near 10.000.



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last modification: 2019-02-23 · copyright: Rolf Stange