Watchbird January 2022

Cover Story

Puffins in Peril: Conserving the Clowns of the Sea

By Deb Dial, Assistant Curator National Aquarium Baltimore, Maryland

The National Aquarium, located in Baltimore ’ s In- ner Harbor, Maryland, USA, has been a respected home to many avian species for over 40 years. One of these species, the Atlantic puffin ( Fratercula arc- tica ), nestled in the Aquarium ’ s Sea Cliffs habitat, has been a hallmark species since opening in 1981. The Aquarium ’ s mission is to inspire the conserva- tion of the world's aquatic treasures and the Atlantic puffin is one of those riches in need of protection. Atlantic puffins have diverse habitat needs, skies for open flight, healthy oceans for overwintering and food, along with safe and protected nesting areas. Over the years, puffin populations have suffered many setbacks and required targeted interventions. Today, the National Aquarium ’ s commitment to the Atlantic puffin continues and after decades of providing care, we have used our experiences to benefit both the wild populations [AS1] and the wel- fare of puffins in human care. Natural History From the order Charadriiformes and the family Al- cidae, there are four species of puffins: Horned puf- fin ( Fratercula corniculata ), Tufted puffin ( Fratercula cirrhata ), Rhinoceros auklet ( Cerorhinca monocerata ), and Atlantic puffin ( Fratercula arctica ).

As their name suggests, Atlantic puffins are endem- ic to the North Atlantic Ocean and they are the only species of puffin found on the East Coast of North America. There are three recognized subspecies of Atlantic puffins: Fratercula arctica arctica , F.a. naumanni and F.a. grabae. The nominate, F. a. arc- tica , is endemic to Iceland, Norway, Greenland, and the Northeast coast of North America. The most dis- tinct subspecies is F. a. naumanni, which can be found in Greenland and is larger than the other two subspecies. F. a. grabae, the smallest subspecies, can be found in the British Isles, Faroe Islands, France, the English Channel Islands and Norway. (Walker and Meijer, 2021). As a pelagic species, puffins spend the majority of the year on the open ocean and have been observed overwintering in this habitat from August to April. Mature individuals return to land to nest during the breeding season from April to August. Despite the Atlantic puffins[AS2] large range and sizable colo- nies, there is still not much known about migration during the non - breeding months when puffins return to the sea (Lowther et al, 2020). It is predictable that the puffins are driven by sea surface temperatures and fish patterns (Huettmann, 2000).

Male Note the black & white bands on the head and chest

Rhinoceros Auklet Photo by Dick Daniels Wikimedia Commons

Tufted Puffin Photo by Wikipedia

Atlantic Puffin Photo by Deb Dial National Aquarium

Horned Puffin Photo by Wikipedia

12 Volume XLVIX ● January 2022

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