10 Facts About Puffins

iStock/pulpitis
iStock/pulpitis

Puffins are widely regarded as the cutest birds on Earth. With their black and white plumage and large orange beaks, Atlantic puffins and their cousins may look like a clownish cross between a duck and penguin, but these birds are their own cool kind. Read on for more about the birds' diet, their chicks—called pufflings!—and habitat.

1. The name puffin refers to the young birds' roly-poly look.

Puffins are called several names based on their appearance. Puffin is thought to come from the word puff, meaning swollen, because the fluffy pufflings do appear rather round. Puffins have also been referred to as the clowns of the ocean or sea parrots thanks to their amusing expression and colorful beak. The Atlantic puffin’s Latin name, Fratercula arctica, translates to “little brother of the north,” which may allude to the Atlantic puffin’s plumage resembling a friar’s robe.

2. There's more than one kind of puffin.

There are four species of puffin: Atlantic puffin, horned puffin, tufted puffin, and rhinoceros auklet. The first three belong to the genus Fratercula and live in the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The rhinoceros auklet, in the genus Cerorhinca, is somewhat different in its appearance but still qualifies as a puffin, anatomically speaking. The auklets live along the western coast of North America from Alaska to central California.

3. Puffins' beaks change color.

Puffins’ beaks are known for their technicolor orange hue, but just before winter the birds shed the outer layer of their bills, leaving them smaller and duller. When spring arrives, though, their beaks return to their bright form, just in time for mating season.

4. Unlike penguins, puffins can fly.

Puffins might resemble the black and white Antarctic birds, but they are definitely not flightless. Despite their stout bodies and short wings, puffins can fly as fast as 55 mph, but not without some serious effort: They have to flap their wings 300 to 400 times per minute to stay aloft.

5. Puffins lay one egg a year.

Atlantic puffin with silver fish in its beak
iStock/CreativeNature_nl

Puffins have just one puffling each year, and they usually have one partner for their lifetime. Puffins raise their single chick during the warmer months of spring and summer and generally return to their same burrows with the same mate the following spring.

6. Pufflings are kind of high-maintenance.

Being a parent to a puffling is very demanding job. Mother and father puffins have to fly long distances to hunt food in the open ocean and then return to their chick with mouthfuls of fish. Parents can supply their young with fish more than 100 times a day.

7. Special tongues help puffins catch and hold fish.

Puffins can grab around 10 small fish—like sand eels, one of their favorite foods—in their beaks per dive. That rare ability is thanks to their specialized tongues and upper palates. A puffin's tongue ends in a coarse section that can hold on to a fish and simultaneously push it against a spiky patch in the bird's mouth, where the prey stays put as the puffin continues hunting. One puffin in Britain set a record for carrying 62 fish in its beak at one time.

8. Puffins dig holes instead of building nests.

Atlantic puffin in its nest burrow
iStock/Peter Llewellyn

Puffins don’t construct the typical cup-shaped nest to raise their puffling. Instead, they burrow into the ground, digging to a depth of about 3 feet with their beaks and feet. They will also find protected spots between rocks on steep cliffs, which protect young birds from predators.

9. Puffins can live more than 20 years.

Puffins lead long lives for birds—often more than two decades. The oldest known puffin lived to be 36. The species’ maximum age is difficult to gauge because dated leg bands often corrode in the puffins’ salty habitat, or become illegible as the puffins nest in rocky environments. In fact, it’s hard to track which puffins were ever banded at all.

10. A puffin patrol helps rescue pufflings in Iceland’s largest puffin colony.

Iceland is home to more than half of the world’s puffin population, and its Vestmannaeyjar archipelago hosts the country’s largest puffin colony. Each April, thousands of birds return from the open ocean to breed. Residents of the main village on Heimaey island, the only inhabited island in the group, have formed a puffin patrol to help rescue pufflings who wander into town and to provide an estimate of the year’s new chicks. In 2016, the last year for which data are readily available, 2639 pufflings were brought into the Vestmannaeyjar Fish and Natural History Museum to be examined and then released.

The Tower of London Welcomes New Baby Ravens for the First Time in 30 Years

Some of the baby ravens born at the Tower of London
Some of the baby ravens born at the Tower of London
Tower of London Twitter (screenshot)

There are some new residents at the Tower of London. They're only about 11 inches tall, are very noisy, and eat rats for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Fortunately, they're also adorable—not to mention protected by legend.

On May 17, the Tower of London announced that their breeding pair of ravens, Huginn and Muninn, had welcomed four healthy chicks, the first born at the Tower since 1989. The ravens are part of an unkindness that's been located at the Tower for centuries as a sort of protective asset. According to legend, the Tower must always have ravens, or both the Tower and the kingdom will fall. It's not exactly clear when the legend began, but according to the Tower, Charles II decreed there must always be six ravens present.

Huginn and Muninn are newer additions, having arrived at the Tower in late 2018, and they weren't expected to breed this spring. So it was a surprise in mid-April when the devoted Tower Ravenmaster, Yeoman Warder Chris Skaife, noticed something exciting going on. "My suspicions were first piqued that we might have a chance of baby chicks when the parents built a huge nest suddenly overnight and then almost immediately the female bird started to sit on it," Skaife said in a Tower press release. On April 23, Skaife noticed the birds flying to the nest with food, but it was only this week he was able to get close enough to see the four healthy chicks. The sight delighted him: "Having worked with the ravens here at the Tower for the last 13 years and getting to know each of them, I feel like a proud father!"

The chicks have grown quickly, already quadrupling in size since they were born, and eat a diet of quail, rats, and mice the Ravenmaster provides. The raven parents have an egalitarian feeding arrangement: Huginn, the male, preps the food and passes it to Muninn, the female, who feeds it to her tiny chicks.

The plan is for one of the chicks to stay at the Tower and join the rest of the ravens there. "As the ravens started to hatch on the 23 April, St. George’s Day, the raven that will be staying at the Tower will be called George or Georgina in honor of the occasion," the Tower explained in a press release. According to The Telegraph, the breeding program at the Tower kicked off in response to a decline in the number of legal raven breeders in the UK.

The last raven chick born at the Tower was Ronald Raven, born May 1, 1989. In his 2018 book, The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London, Skaife wrote that "a baby raven looks a bit like a grotesque miniature gargoyle, but then you see them grow and develop ... It really is wonderful."

The baby ravens born at the Tower of London in 2019
The baby ravens born at the Tower of London in 2019 making some noise
Yeoman Warder Chris Skaife

Dozens of Donkeys, Mini-Donkeys, and Baby Donkeys Are Looking for New Homes

iStock.com/huggy1
iStock.com/huggy1

Cats and dogs aren't the only rescue animals that need permanent homes. At the Humane Society of North Texas (HSNT), there are over 60 donkeys, miniature donkeys, baby donkeys, and Thoroughbred horses up for adoption, the Cleburne Times-Review reports.

Many of the equines at HSNT's ranch in Joshua, Texas came from owners who had to give them up, and others were transferred from different animal rescue groups. As part of the ASPCA’s Help A Horse Home Challenge, HSNT is hosting events to help find new homes for its horses and donkeys.

Between April 26 and June 30 this year, the ASPCA is challenging equine organizations to adopt out as many animals as they can. The groups that see the biggest increases in adoptions between this year and last year's Help A Horse Home Challenge will share $150,000 in grant funding. On May 18 and June 8, HSNT is holding open houses at its ranch for anyone interested in adopting an animal. The events will also be used as opportunities to educate the public about the demands of equine ownership.

If you're not free to swing by one of HSNT's open houses, you can still apply to adopt a horse or donkey. Interested owners can fill out and submit this form [PDF] to equine@hsnt.org. And if you'd like to spend time with baby and mini-donkeys without taking one home, HSNT is also looking for volunteers.

[h/t Cleburne Times-Review]

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