Tufted Puffin

Fratercula cirrhata

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 2002
  • John F. Piatt and Alexander S. Kitaysky

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Tufted Puffin in North America and easternmost Russia.

The Tufted Puffin winters in the Pacific Ocean north and south of the distribution shown and is rarely found in breeding areas during winter. This species also breeds in other parts of Asia. See text for details.

Adult Tufted Puffin, Alaska, June

St. Paul I., Alaska, June; photographer Arthur Morris

Figure 4. Native American (Tlingit) dance apron, fringed with Tufted Puffin bills.

Ceremonial Tlingit dance apron, fringed with hundreds of Tufted Puffin bills that served as rattles (inset shows detail of puffin bills). The woven Chilkat blanket panel (made from goat wool and cedar-bark yarn) is mounted on buckskin. Dates approximately 1840-1850; collected 1939, Wrangell, AK, by Maj. Max C. Fleischmann. Photos and permission to reproduce them here provided by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, courtesy of J. Timbrook, Curator of Ethnography.

Tufted Puffins are cool. Unlike their familiar brethren—Horned (Fratercula corniculata) and Atlantic (F. arctica) puffins, whose appearances convey comic charm and innocence—Tufted Puffins exude stern confidence. With all-black body plumage, striking white robber's mask, chunky orange bill, and streaming golden head-plumes, this is one member of the auk family whose appearance—like that of a biker in leather regalia—says, “Don't mess with me!” Their status as seabird tough-guys is not unwarranted. Few other seabirds breed over such a vast geographic range and extreme of climatic regimes, from cactus-covered rocks in southern California to frozen cliffs of the coastal Alaskan Arctic. And few other seabirds range so widely at sea, from icy waters of the Chukchi Sea to the warm, subtropical expanse of the Central North Pacific Ocean, and east to west from the California Current to the Kuroshio Current of Japan.

While known for carrying bill-fulls of small fish to young and for breeding on continental-shelf habitats that teem with abundant forage fish such as sandlance (Ammodytes hexapterus) and juvenile pollock (Theragra chalcogramma), this species has many life-history attributes that remind one of the more pelagic shearwaters (Puffinus spp.). Adult Tufted Puffins are the most pelagic of the Alcidae (Bent 1919, Kuroda 1955, Shuntov 1972), ranging widely from colonies in summer to find fish for their young, but feeding themselves largely on invertebrates, especially squid and euphausiids. During the nonbreeding season, adults migrate far south to oceanic waters of the Central North Pacific, where their diet consists largely of squid, euphausiids, and pelagic fish. Juveniles migrate south to the Central North Pacific after fledging (Shuntov 1972) and may not return to coastal breeding areas for several years. Thus, the Tufted Puffin, even more so than the Horned Puffin (Piatt and Kitaysky 2002), is a pelagic species that spends most of its life at great distances from land and has a diet more similar to shearwaters and petrels (Pterodroma spp.) than to most other alcids (Sanger 1987a, Vermeer et al. 1987b).

Wehle (Wehle 1976, Wehle 1980, Wehle 1982b, Wehle 1982a, Wehle 1983), Amaral (Amaral 1977), and Vermeer (Vermeer 1979; Vermeer and Cullen 1979; Vermeer et al. Vermeer et al. 1979a, Vermeer et al. 1987b) conducted the earliest directed studies on Tufted Puffins and collected wholly new information on breeding biology, behavior, chick growth, diets, and habitat use in the Aleutians, Gulf of Alaska, and British Columbia. Much incidental information is also available from early general field investigations of seabird colonies (compiled in Baird and Jones 1983, Byrd et al. Byrd et al. 1993). Several more recent studies have added substantially to our knowledge of Tufted Puffin breeding biology (Boone 1986; Hatch and Hatch Hatch and Hatch 1990a, Hatch and Hatch 1990b; Kitaysky Kitaysky 1996, Kitaysky 1999; Kitaysky and Golubova 2000; Bertram et al. 2001; Gjerdrum 2001) and feeding ecology (Sanger Sanger 1983, Sanger 1987a; Baird Baird 1990a, Baird 1991; Hatch and Sanger 1992; Springer et al. 1996); in particular, monitoring studies conducted by the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) on several large colonies provide continuous long-term data on breeding biology and diets (Byrd et al. Byrd et al. 1989, Byrd et al. 1991; Dragoo and Woodward 1996; Roseneau et al. Roseneau et al. 2000; Williams and Daniels 2001). The pelagic distribution and ecology of the Tufted Puffin has also been reasonably well documented throughout its range (Kuroda Kuroda 1955, Kuroda 1960; Shuntov Shuntov 1972, Shuntov 1986; Hunt et al. 1981e, Gould et al. 1982; Wahl et al. Wahl et al. 1989, Wahl et al. 1993; Piatt et al. Piatt et al. 1991b, Piatt et al. 1992; Gould and Piatt 1993; Piatt Piatt 1993b, Piatt 2002; Tyler et al. 1993). For the future, studies of adult survival and recruitment would complement long-term monitoring of populations at key colonies. More attention should be directed toward conservation of dwindling and threatened populations in Japan, California, Washington, and Oregon.

Recommended Citation

Piatt, J. F. and A. S. Kitaysky (2002). Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.708