Atlantic puffins (Fratercula arctica) are auks, a family of birds known for swimming and diving abilities. The Atlantic puffin breeds in the northern Atlantic Ocean, generally on islands of Europe and North America. These seabirds spend spring and summer in coastal clifftop colonies. They dig small burrows in the sides of cliffs to nest. The species is known for its brightly colored bill, which develops during breeding season in the spring. It is believed to have evolved in response to mate selection—the size and color of bills increase with age. Thus, large, colorful bills mean more experience, making them more attractive to potential mates. At the end of breeding season, the colorful coatings are shed in a partial molt, and the birds spend autumn and winter in the open ocean. Atlantic puffins have a wide range, but the global population is decreasing, and some local populations have become endangered. Puffins are threatened by feral rats, cats, dogs and foxes, introduced by humans on some of their nesting islands. They are also threatened by marine pollution, drowning in fishing nets, declining food supplies due to overfishing by humans and climate change. In the past, some populations of puffins were overhunted for food and feathers. However, conservation programs, like Project Puffin in Maine, have helped to reestablish populations.
Photo and haiku: Samantha Oester