Some people refer to Newfoundland and Labrador as the seabird capital of North America. I had the pleasure of visiting Newfoundland and Labrador in June and wasn’t disappointed. I was amazed at the size of seabird colonies at sites like Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve and the puffin lookout in Elliston located on the Bonavista Peninsula. Of the many seabird species that nest on the rocky cliffs along the Newfoundland and Labrador shore, it’s the Atlantic Puffins that are the stars of the show.
The Atlantic Puffin, a seabird in the Auk family, is the provincial bird of Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s easy to see why the puffin was chosen as the official bird since everyone loves them and people travel from all over the world to see them. Dubbed “clowns of the sea” because of their bright, multicoloured bills, clown like faces, and awkwardness on land, they entertain thousands and thousands of visitors each year. It’s easy to see why everyone loves them so much.
These fascinating birds spend most of their lives at sea, only coming to shore during the breeding season where they gather in colonies of thousands of other puffins, Northern Gannets, Murres and Razorbills to name a few.
Puffins mate for life where they dig a burrow between rocks or any soil they can find on the rocky cliffs where the female will lay only one egg. Over the next several weeks, the adult birds assume the position of little soldiers guarding their burrows.
Their precious one egg is a prime target of the many predators in the area including Herring Gulls that will steal an egg or newly hatched puffling.
With a wingspan of five feet, the even more dangerous Great Black-backed Gull, the largest gull in the world, poses an even greater risk. These giants, sometimes referred to as “Kings of the Atlantic Waterfront,” are notorious for harrying other sea birds. Besides threatening eggs and chicks, these predators can swoop from behind and snatch an unsuspecting adult as well.
Compared to most birds, Puffins are not known to be great flyers. They struggle to become airborne and to stay airborne they flap their wings up to four hundred times a minute and speed along at 55 miles an hour. In the water, they are excellent swimmers where they “fly” through the water, using their webbed feet as rudders.
Following the breeding season, the birds will independently head out to sea until it’s time to return the following year, reunite with their mate, show their affection by rubbing and tapping their beaks and using the same burrow year after year. The young birds will spend up to five years at sea before returning to the colony of their birth to find a mate and join the same yearly cycle as their parents.
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