Elliston Puffin Site
Elliston was once known as Bird Island Cove and with good reason. It is home to numerous seabirds and also the Atlantic Puffin. In fact, we have one of the closest land views of puffins in North America. The puffin is also the official bird of Newfoundland and Labrador since 1992.
The Atlantic Puffin is one of four puffin species and the only one that lives on the North Atlantic Ocean. The Latin term is Fratercula arctica, with fratercula meaning "little brother" and arctica meaning "north." This scientific name can be translated as "little brother of the north." The puffin is also known as the "sea parrot" due in part to its interesting colouring. Elliston has approximately 300 nesting pairs at the site and somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1000 pairs on North Bird Island.
Puffins have a unique colouring. An adult has a bright orange, yellow and bluish bill with matching orange feet. A puffin’s face is primarily white with some additional colouring at the base of the bill around their eyes. Their heads, back, and wings are black while the underbelly is white. Both sexes have similar appearances, although males tend to be slightly larger than the females. They are true seabirds, spending most of their time swimming, diving and feeding. Puffins can dive for distances of up to 70 m (200 ft) and are propelled by their powerful wings, which are adapted for swimming (See Video). They use their webbed feet as a rudder while submerged. Puffins collect several small fish, such as herring, sprats, zooplankton, fish (shellfish), sand eels, when hunting. They use their tongues to hold the fish against spines in their palate, leaving their beaks free to open and catch more fish.
Puffins establish burrows on grassy cliffs. They will also nest amongst rocks. Male puffins perform most of the work of clearing out the nest area, which is sometimes lined with grass, feathers or seaweed. The only time spent on land is to nest which is about five months per year. Mates are found prior to arriving at the colonies, and mating takes place at sea. The Atlantic Puffin is sexually mature at the age of 4–5 years. The species is monogamous and has biparental care. A single-egg clutch is produced each year, and incubation responsibilities are shared between both parents. Total incubation time is around 39–45 days, and the chick takes about 49 days to fledge. At fledging, the chick leaves the burrow alone, and flies/swims out to sea, usually during the evening. Contrary to popular belief, young puffins are not abandoned by their parents. The average bird lives about 20 years.
Our puffin viewing site is just a short five minute walk from the main road on a sharp turn. It is also roughly halfway between Sandy Cove Beach and Puffin Ventures Craft shop in Maberly.
Puffins return to the area in May and usually stay until the end of September.
Here are some photos of puffins at Elliston's site. Click to enlarge.
Puffin video is also available in the Photo Archive's Video Section.