Tufted puffins (Lunda cirrhata Pallas) are relatively large birds with the wingspan reaching 70 cm and weight of up to 920 grams. The prevailing color of the body plumage and wings is black with a reddish tint. The top is very bright: the large white head is flattened at the sides topped with two yellow bunches of feathers. The flattened beak is massive and red as well as webbed feet. (The beak actually has a winter and summer phase, and it is only the summer breeding phase that is so massive and red.)
The puffin beak is a very important tool. It is used to dig long burrows for nesting, up to two meters deep, catch and carry fish. The peculiar anatomy of the beak allows birds to hold several fish at a time without losing them.
Puffins inhabit the northern Pacific, including Kamchatka. However, the most interesting place to watch them is the Commander Islands. The small island sharing the same name with birds is located three kilometers from Nikolskoye village. It provides habitat for one of the largest puffin colonies. Every spring about one hundred thousand birds arrive here to hatch nestlings, which entirely changes the look of the previously abandoned island. Unlike other islands, this one is not so rocky, and its largest part is occupied by a flat plateau where puffins dig tunnels in the upper peat layer. The entire plateau is pockmarked with holes. Here, they lay their eggs and rear their chicks when hatched.
Puffins are good swimmers and divers, but they are clumsy on land and can’t take flight from an even surface. Therefore, colonies are made on abrupt slopes providing the birds with platforms to skydive.
It’s common to see dozens or even hundreds of birds hastily wobble to platforms to fly after recovering their breath. However, they do it not upwards but downwards working fast with their wings not to lose altitude and fly to the sea.
Soon after returning to the island from wintering, they begin to renovate old holes and start now ones. During this period puffins become aggressive and often wrangle.
The hatch, as a rule, consists of one egg incubated by both parent-birds in turns. A nestling pips in 38-46 days. In contrast to an adult bird it looks unpretentious: a reddish black body with a grayish belly and a relatively small grayish-brown beak.
A nestling is fostered by two parents, bringing small fish 3-4 times a day. A puffin can bring two dozen fish or even more at a time. The registered record is 29 fish.
Fifty days after pipping nestlings emerge from their burrows and start an independent life, while adult birds leave islands and set out to roam customary places along the shore.
Posted: Dec 28, 2016
Photos Courtesy: Kamchatka Explore Magazine
This article was published with permission from Kamchatka Explore Magazine. Author: Dmitry Pilipenko, an ornithologist from Komandorsky Federal Nature Reserve
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