Animals & Exhibits    >    Animal Guide    >    Birds    >   

Tufted puffin

Tufted puffin
Tufted puffin Tufted puffin with non-breeding plumage

On Exhibit: Open Sea

Animal Facts

  • Scientific Name

    Fratercula cirrhata

  • Animal Type


  • Diet

    small fishes, anchovies, capelin, lanternfishes, rockfishes, squid, krill, invertebrates.

  • Size

    15 in. (35 cm)

  • Relatives

    horned puffin, Atlantic 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

Its bright colors have earned the tufted puffin the nickname, "parrot of the sea," but this beautiful bird is at home on land as well. In early spring, its beak and feet turn a vibrant orange in preparation for breeding season, but in winter they fade to duller shades of their summer color. Juveniles are less colorful than adults. 

The tufted puffin nests in burrows or tunnels on inaccessible rocky cliffs and offshore islands. You'll find them in dense, large colonies during the breeding season in the spring and summer. While nesting, puffins are very social—flocks of 10 to 25 birds may leave the colony to gather food for their mates and chicks. But in the winter, after the breeding season, tufted puffins disperse far and wide, and are solitary birds, venturing over the Central North Pacific while experiencing a range of conditions—from the frigid seas of the Bering Strait to subtropical waters off California. When it's time to breed again, they'll return to the colony where they were born, and usually to the same mate.


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

A puffin's beak is specialized to hold many fish, and its raspy tongue holds fish against spines on the palate, so the hunter is able to open its beak to capture more. An average catch is 10 fish per trip. 

A puffin looks like a hybrid of a fish and a bird as it "flies" underwater. A typical dive lasts 20–30 seconds but puffins can stay underwater for up to a minute. Heavy bones also allow them to dive deep in search of food. While scientists aren't quite sure how deep they go, based on similar diving birds, it may be as deep as 300 feet. 

To nest on rocky cliffs, tufted puffins rely on sharp nails on their feet to climb over rocks.

 Animal Guide Home