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Learn about the clowns of the sea


Photo by Carron Brown licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

Small black and white birds that prefer swimming to flying? Fond of cold climates and love to eat fish? You might think you know the bird, but these aren’t penguins. The puffin may look like a penguin but these birds are smaller, cuter and live in the north. And unlike penguins, they manage to actually fly.

Here are some fun facts about these clowns of the sea.

1) Don’t call them penguins

Puffins got their name from the fluffiness of their chicks. They’ve also been called the “clowns of the sea” and “sea parrots” because of their brightly coloured beaks, though the bright colours are just for summer. In the winter their beaks and feet fade to a grayish colour. Most puffins live around the northern Atlantic ocean – ranging from the northeast coast of the United States, along the Maritime coast, and over to Iceland, the northwest of Europe and Russia.

Puffin on a rock

Photo by Alex Morrice licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

2) They’d love all-you-can-eat sushi

Puffins love to eat fish and spend most of their time at sea looking for their next meal. Puffin parents bring back fish to the nest for their chick, usually carrying 10 or more small fish in their beaks at a time. They’ve been spotted cramming as many as 40 fish in their mouths!

Puffin with fish in its mouth

Photo by Hefin Owen licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

3) A lot of flapping going on

Puffins can fly for long distances but it takes a lot of work, they need to flap their wings as much as 300-400 beats every minute to stay in the air. And their landings need some work, they often trip over their own feet. Puffins have more fun once they get in the water. Puffins dive into the water, going as deep as 60 meters. Underwater they swim with their wings, using their big feet to steer, the rest of the time they swim on the surface of the water, like ducks.

Puffin flapping its wings in the air

Photo by Martha de Jong-Lantink licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

4) Proud Newfoundlanders

The puffin is the official bird of Newfoundland and Labrador. Every year thousands of puffins – about 60% of all the puffins in North America – gather on islands off the coast of the province to nest on rocky cliffs in big noisy colonies. Puffins mate for life and usually return to the same nest site every year as well. They only lay one egg a year, and when hatched the baby is called a chick or, even more adorably, a puffling.

Puffin with fish in its mouth

Photo by Judith licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

5) West coast cousins

There are actually 3 types of puffin, though the Atlantic puffin is the most familiar. Over on the Pacific Ocean, there’s the tufted puffin, which is mostly dark-coloured, with white feather around its face, and the horned puffin, which looks very much like the Atlantic one, just with a small black horn-looking bit above their eyes. They range from Northern California, along the coast of British Columbia to Alaska, and from Siberia to Japan.

Tufted puffin

Photo by Nathan Hamm licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

puffin puppetMake & Do Puffin Puppets

You can make your own cute puffin paper bag puppet (say that three times fast!) by checking out the Canadian Animal Paper Bag Puppets craft over at CBC Parents. They're really easy to make, and along with the puffin, there's a fox, polar bear and beaver to print out, colour and decorate. Make all four of them and you can have your own arctic puppet show!