Sandeel, capelin, herring, hake, sprat
Average of 25 years (estimated)
Oh, good morning! You’re here, too? What brings you to this place so early in the day? Anyway, welcome to Puffin Island – or Lundey as it is called in Icelandic. I’m sure you know I am a PUFFIN. And I’m not alone: this island is home to one of the largest puffin colonies around Iceland! We’re about 100.000 individuals that come here annually to nest during the summer months. Isn’t this island just perfect to raise our young?
I see you’re fascinated by my appearance, which is probably the main reason you came to see me today. Now during the mating season, my colours are even brighter than usual: my beak has a blueish base with red, orange and yellow stripes. My feet are brightly orange, while my plumage is sparkling white and black, red and black markings are surrounding my eyes. However, once the mating season will come to an end, all these colours will turn pale and fade away. Then, I am way more camouflaged out on the water and less noticeable for predators than at the moment.
All these changes in my appearance are for a good reason though: You’re in luck dear visitor, one isn’t able to find us here in Skjálfandi Bay all year round, but only during our nesting season which starts mid-April and lasts until late August. We’re true seabirds and therefore spend the other two thirds of the year out on the open water, far from any land. I am perfectly adapted to the marine environment as my feathers are waterproof and keep me warm. Also, I can drink saltwater and am a great fisherman: my wings are perfectly shaped and adapted for diving. While I hold my breath for up to 90 seconds, I use my wings like paddles and with their aid, can dive up to 60 metres deep to catch my prey.
May I introduce the beautiful lady approaching us? She has been my partner since I was four years old. Not only is that several years ago, but the two of us will stay together for the rest of our lives and even if we might lose eyesight of one another during winter, we will always find back to each other upon arrival here on the island, which we will come back to year after year. You’re wondering why she is walking with her head down? Well, we puffins are really polite and the very least, we would search for troubles with our neighbours. Therefore, should we land a bit off from our own nest, we bow down as a sign of peace while we pass by the others. By now you might have noticed we aren’t the greatest at flying. In fact, we need to flap our wings up to 400 times a minute in order to stay in the air. On the other hand, we can still fly on speeds of up to 88 km/h. Taking off and landing tends to be a hassle though and looks everything but graceful as it usually ends in a belly-flop or clumsy tumble. Therefore sometimes, it’s just good to get down anyhow and swim or walk the last stretch of the journey. Our clumsy performances however along with our multicoloured appearance, have also labelled us as the “Clowns of the Sea”.
What are you searching for? Oh, you can’t spot our nest? Of course not, silly! Haven’t you noticed all the holes spread over the entire island? We puffins dig burrows into the ground, using both our beaks and feet as tools. These burrows are much like a tunnel and can be anything between one and five metres deep. Towards the end of this tunnel is a room with the nest. Each couple will just raise one chick per season, which usually hatches after an incubation time of 42 days. The so-called puffling then grows up inside the burrow, which keeps it warm and well protected from predators. Right behind the entrance is a toilet area. That way, the puffling doesn’t ever have to leave the nest while still young, but still manages to keep its feathers neat and tidy, which is crucial for the survival at sea. In the meantime, we parents are taking turns flying out to catch as much fish as possible to feed its hungry beak. Sandeel and capelin are some true delicacies if I may say and we might fly up to 10 nautical miles away to find them! Luckily, we are adapted to carry lots of fish at once: that is thanks to the strength of my tongue, which is able to lock already caught fish against my upper jaw while some backwards-facing spikes (palatal denticles) are holding it in place. With this ability, I can keep diving for more and more fish until my beak is all filled up! While in average we will carry home 10-20 fish at once, some of us are holding records of up 60 fish loaded in their beak.
Once about six weeks old, our pufflings will leave the burrow for the first time and one after another takes off to the water, following their parents to the ocean. We adults of course will return the next spring, but our little ones will not see land until they’re at least two years old, which is when they return to where they were once born – ready to welcome you at Puffin Island as well!
They can dive up to 60 metres…
…and stay submerged for up to 90 seconds.
The record of fish in a puffin’s beak is 62 at a time.
They flap their wings about 400 times/min when flying…
…and can reach speeds of up to 88 km/h.
60% of all Atlantic Puffin nest around Iceland during summer…
…which is between 8 and 10 million individuals.
A burrow is generally about 1 metre deep, but can be much more.
Every couple lays only 1 white egg per nesting season…
…and the puffling hatches after 42 days of incubation.
It leaves the burrow at the age of 6 weeks…
…and spends the following four years floating on the ocean.