Puffin Fratercula arctica

The puffin is a small auk, familiar as the ‘clowns’ of the coast with their brightly coloured bills, bumpy landings and waddling walk. The puffin is an unmistakeable bird: its top half is black, with a white belly and cheeks. It has a massive, multicoloured bill and orange, webbed feet. In winter they gain more black feathers and their beaks turn black and grey.


Puffins live in burrows in the short grass at the top of cliffs and feed on fish, such as sandeels, which they catch at sea by diving beneath the surface and using their wings to swim in pursuit. For most of the year puffins are out at sea, returning to land to breed. During the breeding season, displays of bill-knocking and ritualised walking will result in mating pairs producing one egg, which is laid at the end of the burrow. The chick remains in the burrow until it is independent and ready to go to sea.


  • Length: 26-29cm
  • Wingspan: 55cm
  • Weight: 400g
  • Average Lifespan: 18 years


Classified in the UK as a Red List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review.


Nests on cliffs and islands at scattered locations around the coast of Scotland, northern England, south-west England and Wales.

When to see

March – August


  • The puffin is also known as the ‘sea parrot’ due to its brightly coloured bill. It is serrated to hold fish in place; one puffin was recorded having 83 small sandeels in its bill!
  • The scientific name Fratercula arctica means “little brother of the north” in Latin. This may be because a puffin’s black and white feathers look like religious robes.

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Common name


Species name

Fratercula arctica

IUCN Red List status


When to see in Scotland

March – August

Where to see in Scotland

Scottish Wildlife Trust reserves such as Handa Island or the Isle of Eigg.

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