The Atlantic Puffin is also called the Common Puffin. It is the only Puffin found in the Atlantic Ocean and is smaller than it’s Pacific cousins the Horned Puffin and Tufted Puffin. They usually only make landfall to breed for a few months in the summer. The breeding and raising of chicks typically takes place on rocky North Atlantic islands or off the coasts of Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Labrador and Newfoundland. They also breed in colonies as far south as the British Isles or the state of Maine.
When Puffins are fully grown they are only around 11 inches tall. They stand and waddle in a similar fashion to penguins. They are black and white and in late Spring develop a thicker and brighter colored bill. The breeding Puffin’s bill turns orange as do their feet. They have one advantage over other birds from the Auk family. That advantage is longer more distinct toenails that enable them to burrow into the ground as well as nest in rock cavities similar to Razorbills and Common Muirs. The puffins are the smallest of these Auks that all breed and raise young in close quarters amongst the rocks on these coasts and islands. They seem aware of this and tend to stay clear of the others making their way back to their nesting cavities.
Generally they lay just one egg and leave the chicks behind when they become the same size as themselves, usually within 6 weeks. Both parents take turns hunting and feeding the chicks. After being abandoned by their parents, the chicks leave under the cover of night. Once they make it to the water they won’t touch land again until 2-3 years later when they become sexually mature.
The Atlantic Puffins that breed off the coast of Maine do so on a few different islands. By far the biggest and most researched island is Machias Seal Island. This island is only 11 acres in size. It is 9 miles off shore from Cutler Maine which is the closest American seaport and the home of Bold Coast Charter Company. The Babara Frost captained by Andy Patterson is the only American tourist vessel allowed to land on the the island from the end of May through the middle of August. There is also one Canadian vessel named Day’s Catch that can make landfall and it leaves from Grand Manan New Brunswick. These Puffin Tours are extremely popular and many dates book solid in the first two weeks of January which is when they start taking reservations. I booked the landing tour for Saturday July 11, 2015 and my Machias Seal Island photography on my website and FaceBook page are from that tour.