Around the 4th of July, we began noticing puffins delivering food to their burrows, which can mean only one thing… chicks are hatching! Puffins feed small fish to their young. Here on Petit Manan, their diet mostly consists of butterfish, herring, and the occasional sand lance or hake. They can carry numerous fish in one beak load – as many as 10 – with the helps of backward-pointing spikes inside their bill and on their tongues. The record number of fish carried in the bill of a puffin is 62!
After an incubation period of around 42 days, puffin chicks begin to hatch. Each pair of puffins rears a single chick in a rock or sod burrow. The chick spends all of its time in the depths of the cool, dark burrow, until it is around 38 days old and almost ready to fledge. To get an idea of the number of chicks that are hatching and how their growth and development is progressing, two or three times during the season we go puffin grubbing!
So far this season we’ve found 21 puffin chicks. For the first few weeks, they’re hardly recognizable as puffins – they’re teacup sized fluff balls with dense, black, down. Unlike their parents’ colorful and elaborate bills, puffin chicks have modest, black bills that are reminiscent of a raven.
Sometimes when we stick our arms into burrows we’re met with an unpleasant surprise: a sharp bite from the powerful bill of an adult puffin! We take measurements on the adults too: weight, wing and bill dimensions. And if they’re not already banded, we do that too.
Check back soon for updates on our other Alcid buddies: the razorbills and guillemots!