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What’s in a Name: Puffin Puffinus

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Jul 5, 2020 | by Adrian Binns

July 3rd was World Seabird Day, and Chris Brown posted a great blog Every Auk has its Day  commemorating this important date. In honor of these fascinating birds, and the plights they face around the world, I’d like to share a bit about puffins, one of my favorite seabirds.

Puffins are always a crowd-pleaser – with colorful grooved bills, bright orange feet, and a diminutive size, they are inevitably described as “adorable.” They move rather comically, clamoring around rocky shorelines; Atlantic Puffins on the east coast, Tufted and Horned Puffins on the west. Puffins are colony nesters, raising their young in dirt burrows situated atop rocky cliffsides. With thick, serrated-edge bills, puffins are well-adapted to scoop up and hold dozens of small fish, which they carry back to their burrows to feed hungry chicks.

Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica

The word puffin is a diminutive of puffinus dating back to 17th century England. Puffinus as in corpulent, plump-bodied or ‘puffy’ – was originally applied to Manx Shearwater and Atlantic Puffins, both of whom breed along the English coast.  Maritime explorers used this term when selling their bounty of cured carcasses – nestlings easily plucked from their burrows.   Shearwaters retained the latin genus puffinus, while puffins kept the common name in current seabird taxonomy.

Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus

Whatever their name, puffins are adorable, charismatic seabirds!  Both puffins and shearwaters can be seen on a number of our trips, and we hope that you can join one of these to enjoy these remarkable seabirds.

Maine: Mountains & Coast – Atlantic Puffin, Great and Sooty Shearwater

Maine: Red-billed Tropicbird – Manx, Great and Sooty Shearwater

Dry Tortugas: Seabirds & Spring Migration – Audubon’s Shearwater

California: Central Coast – Tufted Puffin, Pink-footed Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Buller’s Shearwater and Black-vented Shearwater

Washington: Pacific Northwest – Tufted Puffin, Sooty Shearwater and Black-vented Shearwater

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