Horned puffin

At the Aquarium

Our puffins eat capelin, squid, krill and silversides, and like to be hand-fed. Most come right over for their three daily feedings. "They know I'm the guy with the food," says Aviculturist Eric Miller. "Most are quite polite."

Hand-feeding is a form of "enrichment" that keeps our birds happy and stimulated, but it also has practical benefits. By using food as reinforcement, Eric hopes to be able to train the birds to step on a scale or undergo medical exams.

Natural History

Horned puffins live primarily on the open ocean, but return to coastal nesting grounds in summer, where they mate and raise their chicks. They nest in crevices on cliffs and rocky islands, often in dense, large, mixed colonies with other puffins and auks. Unlike tufted puffins that nest in burrows, horned puffins seek our rocky crevices and outcroppings for their nests, though some nest in burrows.

In the summer breeding season, horned puffins have characteristic white "cheeks." During winter, the white patch becomes darker and the "horn" above each eye disappears. The bill becomes smaller and duller.

Horned puffins take advantage of the sea's bounty. While nesting and raising their chicks, horned puffins eat mostly fish, bringing back beakfuls of sand lance and capelin to their young. Horned puffins can dive up to 80 feet to catch prey.

Conservation

Today tons of plastic trash swirls on ocean currents and seabirds looking for flashing fishes frequently mistake shiny plastic debris for food. With their stomachs full of plastic instead of fish, many oceanic birds risk starvation. You can help: less plastic on land means less plastic in the sea.

Cool Facts

While puffins do fly, they mostly swim while at sea. Their legs are set far back on their bodies, which means they're not very graceful on land, but they're very good swimmers. 

Puffins use counter-shading to hide from hungry predators. A dark color on top makes it hard for predators above to see they blend with the dark water. The light color on the underside helps them hide from predators swimming below. 

Puffins can carry more than one fish at a time in their beaks. The average is about 10 fish per catch, but one was recorded with 62 fish in its mouth! A puffin's raspy tongue holds fish against spines on the palate, while it opens its beak to catch more fish.