NatureMapping Animal Facts

Tufted Puffin

Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata)
El “Puffin”Copetudo - en Español
Species Code: FRCI

distribution map Description: The Tufted Puffin is a medium-sized, stocky, dark seabird with a rounded head. The breeding adult is all black except for a white face and long golden plumes curling over back of head and neck. The thick bill is large and red-orange, with a bright-orange yellow plate over the base. Tufted Puffin photo by Natures Pics The nonbreeding adult has a dark gray face with no head plumes or bill plate. The large webbed feet are orange. The eye is ringed with orange. Males and females look alike, but males are usually slightly larger than females.

Tufted Puffins are the size of pigeons, but weigh nearly twice as much (1 kg, 2 lbs).

Calls: The call is a low, growling "errrr."
Listen to calls of this species »

Range / Habitat: Tufted Puffins can be found in many coastal habitats adjacent to the Washington coast and elsewhere in the northern Pacific, with the exception of estuaries. They breed in colonies on islands with steep, grassy slopes or on cliff tops. Winter habitat is well offshore, in mid-ocean.

Breeding colonies of Tufted Puffins are found on islands and some portions of mainland coastlines throughout the north Pacific, from the Chukchi Peninsula in Siberia to the Channel Islands off southern California. They are mostly pelagic (live at sea) during the winter.

Tufted Puffin photo by Natures Pics

Click the range map to learn more about the distribution of Tufted Puffin in Washington.

Diet: The diet of Tufted Puffins is mostly small fish which they catch in their beak while swimming. They also eat squids, octopuses, crabs, jellyfish and zooplankton.

Behavior: Tufted Puffins are active at their nest colonies during the day and can often be seen sitting upright on rocks.

They dive and swim underwater, using their wings to paddle and their feet to steer their way through schools of small fish, which they catch in their bills. A puffin can hold a dozen fish crosswise in their bill until they return to the nest to feed the puffin chick. 

Puffins can carry 5-20 fish back to their nest at a time. The average catch is around 10 fish per trip, but the record in Maine is a whopping 62 fish at once! The puffin's beak is specialized to hold lots of fish. The puffin's raspy tongue holds fish against spines on the palate, while it opens its beak to catch more fish. (source:

Puffins are powerful flyers, beating their wings 300-400 times a minute to achieve speeds up to 64 kph (40 mph).

Tufted Puffin photo by Natures Pics

Nesting: Tufted Puffins probably form long-term pair bonds to help care for the offspring. They nest in burrows at the edges of cliffs, on grassy slopes, or in natural crevices in rocks. The pair spends a great deal of time preparing the nest site, excavating the burrow with their bills and feet.

The protected burrow is 2-7 feet long with a nest chamber at the end. This chamber is usually lined with grass or feathers, or sometimes there is no lining. The female lays one egg, which both parents incubate for 6-1/2 to 7-1/2 weeks. After the egg hatches, both parents care for the young for another 6-7 weeks, until it is ready to leave the nest. The fledgling leaves its burrow at night and moves to sea by walking and fluttering its wings.

Did you know?

  • The Tufted Puffin is the largest puffin and is characterized by the long, straw-colored feathers extending back from its crown.
  • The Tufted Puffin nests mostly in deep burrows that it digs into a cliff by the ocean.
  • A Puffin can capture and hold multiple small fish crosswise in its bill, routinely 5 to 20 fish at a time, for delivery to chicks at the nest.
  • Tufted Puffins form long-term pair bonds to take care of the young.
  • Puffins may dive deeper than 24 m (80 ft.) to catch fish.
  • A puffin can dive for up to a minute underwater, but most dives usually last 20 to 30 seconds. 
  • Puffins can live 20 years or more.

Tufted Puffin photo by Natures Pics

Tufted Puffin flying over the ocean.

More information: BirdWeb: Tufted Puffin
All About Birds: Tufted Puffin
Questions about Puffins

Animal silhouettes available to purchase »

Photos: Natures Pics

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