Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata)
By Mary Fox

When I volunteered to script the July BOTM, one of the first birds I though of was the Tufted Puffin, also known as the Crested Puffin. You may wonder why a native Hoosier would choose a Pelagic species found along the Pacific Coast, far from Indiana.

I became fascinated with this cute, stocky, gregarious bird many years ago; loving the bold colored bill, white face, and wispy tufts of yellow feathers on the head. Thus the nickname, “Parrot of the Sea.” The Indianapolis Zoo had an exhibit that featured Tufted Puffins and Common Murres, and I loved to watch them dive and swim and play. I was also attracted to the frigid, air conditioned temperatures of the exhibit and thought how good that would feel on a hot, humid, July summer day. I was thrilled to see this bird in the wild, on an Alaskan cruise I took in August, 2011. So, I thought it was fitting to talk about this bird 10 years later.

The Tufted Puffin is a member of the family Alcidae, which means web-footed diving bird. The Puffin is a seabird of the open waters and coastal cliffs of the North Pacific. It is the largest of the Puffin species. Their Winter habitat is mid-ocean, far offshore. Long-term bonded pairs nest in deep burrows on steep, grassy slopes and cliff edges of isolated islands, and occasionally under boulders or dense vegetation. The female usually only lays one egg, which will hatch in 6 weeks.

The breeding adults show the “extravagant head plumes and face pattern” and nonbreeding/immature birds are dark with a gray face, smaller plumes, and less orange on the bill. Their wings are relatively short, suited for deep diving and underwater swimming to capture prey. Pelagic birds feed largely on invertebrates, like squid and krill. Coastal nesting colonies feed on fish, and are able to carry large quantities in their bills. They can carry as many as a dozen our more fish crosswise in their bills to feed the nestlings. That large, colorful bill not only carries food, and helps to attract a mate, but is also important for heat dissipation after a long, rigorous flight. They are powerful flyers, with speeds up to 40 mph. Predators include Raptors, Gulls and the Arctic Fox. Tufted Puffins can live to be 20 years old, or more.

The zoo sadly no longer has the bird exhibit, but I’ll be taking another Alaskan cruise next summer and hope to see a Tufted Puffin again, sitting on a piece of floating ice.

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