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A Bird - or a Fish?
Puffins eat mostly small fish and young puffins are fed fish by their parents. Feedings are usually several times a day and the adults load their beaks up with fish to bring back to the burrow*.
When fishing, puffins can dive 80 feet / 24 meters into the water and stay beneath the surface for up to a minute! They use their wings to swim and glide under water - almost like flying - and they steer by using their feet as rudders.
They can swim underwater so well that people used to claim that a puffin was actually a cross between a bird and a fish. This was a good excuse for some people to eat puffin meat on lent and Fridays to avoid the prohibition of meat by the Catholic Church on those days.
Puffins can catch and hold up to 30 fish in their beaks at one time! Their unique beaks are specialized to catch and hold fish and a raspy tongue holds the fish against spines on the palate so they don't fall out when they open up for another helping.
*Yes, puffins have burrows. They dig them into the earth between rocks on steep cliffs so that predators can't reach them. They use their beaks to cut into the earth and then shovel away loose material with their feet.
Most burrows are 2 - 3 feet / 70 - 110 cm deep. At the back is a soft nest of feathers and grass with a toilet area in the tunnel. The young chick uses this "toilet" so it doesn’t soil its feathers and damage its waterproofing - that could mean death once it's old enough to take to the sea.
Click pictures for more information and credits.
Library: Birds, Arctic
Links: Arctic, Project Puffin
Arctic Maps & Weather Reports
DICTIONARY: Just "double-click" any unlinked word on this page for the definition from Merriam-Webster's Student Electronic Dictionary at Word Central.
ARCTIC LIBRARY & GLOSSARY: Check this section for an index of the rest of the things you really need to know about the Arctic.
ARCTIC MAPS & WEATHER REPORTS: Maps of the Northwest Passage, explorers' routes, iceberg sources, Nunavut, the Arctic by treeline, temperature...
ARCTIC LINKS: Even more information! Links to sites related to the Arctic and "Iceberg: the Story of the Throps and the Squallhoots".
GUIDE TO ARCTIC SUNRISE & SUNSET: How much sunlight or darkness is there in the Arctic on each day of the year?
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