Thursday, August 26, 2010

Birds of St Paul: Tufted Puffin

Saving my favorite for last... The Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata). I'm not certain if he's my favorite because for the potential for bad hair days when the wind whips up the tufts or if it's because I've seen these guys so often off the coast of California. A quick trip under the Golden Gate Bridge, heading in the direction of the Farallon Islands will get you a nice view of these birds swimming just off Point Bonita.

Their size is comparable to a pigeon but they weigh twice as much. As with most birds in the Auk family, Tufted Puffin lay one egg and both parents are responsible for incubating the egg.

When it comes time to feed the young, Tufted Puffin excel at the task. The corner of the Puffin's bill is a fleshy membrane which allows the bird to open it's lower bill almost parallel to the top. This clamping action, combine with a series of backward pointing spines on their tongue and roof of mouth, allow the puffin to gather a great number of fish in one trip. They average 10 fish per trip but have been observed carrying up to 60!!

Tufted puffin were once hunted for food. Their tough hides were used to make parkas, the warm feathers worn toward the inside. Today they are a species of least concern with an estimated global population of 2,400,000 individuals.

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