Watchbird January 2022

Anthropogenic hazards like oil spills are a con- stant risk to harming large numbers of puffins at one time, particularly during breeding season when they are concentrated near sea islands. A contamination event would not only harm the indi- viduals but would also compromise the food sup- ply. The colonies of seabirds in the Gulf of Maine have not encountered such an event, but a puffin colony off the coast of France suffered a loss of more than 2,000 pairs following oil contamination in 1967, and again lost over 1,300 in a second event in 1978 (Lowther et al, 2020). The Atlantic puffin ’ s conservation status (at the time of this publication) is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The most recent population as- sessment estimates that between the years of 2000 and 2065, there will be a decrease in European puffins that ranges from 50% to 79%. This rapid decline is suspected from a combination of food shortages, invasive species, pollution, and adult mortalities in fishing nets . (2021)

Penguin vs. Puffin Both are seabirds and share a black and white color scheme with a colorful beak, spend much of their lives on water but breed and socialize on land, have similar breeding habits and face threats posed by humans and climate change. However, their differences are quite striking. Penguins belong to the family Spheniscidae which includes only the 18 different species of penguins while puffins are part of the family Alcidae which includes other birds such as murres and auklets. Puffins can fly as opposed to penguins that are too heavy for flight and have wing bones fused straight, making them rigid and powerful like a flipper. All but one species of penguin make their homes in the Southern hemisphere while puffins live on rocky coasts in the Northern hemisphere. Penguins stay with their mate for life but puffins reunite with their partner each year at the breeding site. Puffins range in size from 10 to 15 inches fully grown and penguins come in various shapes and sizes from 15 inches to al- most 4 feet tall. References: National Marine Sanctuary Foundation

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Photo by Aimee Milarski

AFA Watchbird 17

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