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Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica

This species has experienced rapid declines across its European range. Population trends outside Europe are unknown. Extrapolated over three generation lengths and allowing for uncertainty, the population is thought to be declining at a rate sufficient to trigger Vulnerable under the population size criterion. Should population trends become less uncertain both within and outside its European range it may merit uplisting or downlisting.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

26-36 cm, wingspan 47-63 cm. Mostly black upperparts from neck, across throat with white breast, flanks and belly (Nettleship et al. 2014). White/grey face with black band from forehead to nape. Large triangular bill, radially compressed, bluish grey at base with pale yellow cere and orange/yellow rictal rosette at gape. Orange-red eye ring with soft brown iris. Juvenile resembles adult but generally smaller. Similar species Horned Puffin F. corniculata is larger and with different bill and facial ornaments.

Distribution and population
The Atlantic Puffin can be found throughout the North Atlantic Ocean, from north-west Greenland (to Denmark) to the coastline of Newfoundland (Canada) in the west, and from north Norway down to the Canary Islands, Spain (in winter) in the east (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The population in Iceland and Norway, which together account for 80% of the European population, decreased markedly since the early 2000s (BirdLife International 2015). In south and west Iceland the population has generally failed every year since 2005 (G. A. Gudmundsson in litt. 2015). The largest Norwegian colony, Røst, has experienced sharp declines (T. Anker-Nilssen in litt. 2015) and the population at Runde has also declined (A. O. Folkestad in litt. 2015) however many colonies remain unmonitored (T. Anker-Nilssen in litt. 2015). Populations in the Faroe Islands (Denmark) and Greenland are also reported to be decreasing (BirdLife International 2015). Although the population size was estimated to be increasing in the U.K. during 1969-2000, evidence suggests that it has undergone declines or probable declines since 2000 (Harris and Wanless 2011). A reduction in the recruitment of juveniles into the breeding population is thought to be the most likely factor involved in a sharp decrease in the number of puffins at the Fair Isle (U.K.) breeding colony; from approximately 20,200 individuals in 1986 to 10,700 individuals in 2012 (Miles et al. 2015). Adult survival probability remained similar across the 27 years of the study, whilst breeding success, the number of feeding visits by adults to chicks and the size of available prey fish all decreased. 

Population justification
The European population is estimated to be 4,770,000-5,780,000 pairs, which equates to 9,550,000-11,600,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015).

Trend justification
The population size in Europe is estimated and projected to decrease by 50-79% during 2000-2065 (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015). Europe holds >90% of the global population, so the projected declines in Europe are globally significant. The overall trend of the West Atlantic population is unknown (Berglund and Hentati-Sundberg 2014). Populations are suspected to be declining rapidly through the combined impact of predation by invasive species, pollution, food shortages caused by the depletion of fisheries and adult mortality in fishing nets.

The species is exclusively marine, found on rocky coasts and offshore islands (Nettleship et al. 2014). It nests on grassy maritime slopes, sea cliffs and rocky slopes. During the winter it is wide-ranging, found in offshore and pelagic habitats usually in open water regions of breeding range to the edge of the continental shelf. Only infrequently found in open ocean. 

The species is a pursuit-diver catching most of its prey within 30 m of the water surface but capable of diving to 60 m (Piatt and Nettleship 1985, Burger and Simpson 1986). They prey on 'forage' species, including juvenile pelagic fishes, such as herring Clupea harengus, juvenile and adult capelin Mallotus villosus, and sandeel Ammodytes spp. (Barrett et al. 1987). At times, they also prey on juvenile demersal fishes, such as gadids (Harris and Hislop 1978, Martin 1989, Rodway and Montevecchi 1996). Sandeels usually form the majority of the prey fed to chicks (Corkhill 1973, Hislop and Harris 1985, Harris and Wanless 1986, Martin 1989, Harris and Riddiford 1989), and many chicks starve during periods of low sandeel abundance (Martin 1989), although there are exceptions, such as at Skomer Island in 1969 when sprat made up the majority of the diet fed to chicks (Corkhill 1973).

This is a relatively wide-ranging species. When feeding chicks, birds generally forage within 10 km of their colony, but may range as far as 50 to 100 km or more (Harris 1984, Rodway and Montevecchi 1996). A boat transect run on one day in 1970 found that 85% of all birds seen were concentrated within just 3 km of the colony (BirdLife International 2000), but other studies have found peaks in the density of foraging birds at up to 40 km distance from the colony (Webb et al. 1985, Stone et al. 1992, Stone et al. 1993, BirdLife International 2000). Similarly, surveys at the Isle of May, Scotland, suggest that birds forage close to the breeding colony, but also at other sites up to 40 km away (Wanless et al. 1990, BirdLife International 2000). Various studies (Pearson 1968, Corkhill 1973, Bradstreet and Brown 1985, BirdLife International 2000), based on different breeding colonies, have estimated the theoretical maximum foraging radius at anywhere from 32 km (Corkhill 1973) to 200 km (Bradstreet and Brown 1985).

This species is highly susceptible to the impacts of climate change, such as sea temperature rise and shifts in prey distribution and abundance (Durant et al. 2003, Sandvik et al. 2005). This is a particularly important threat when prey species are exploited unsustainably, leading to prey reductions and subsequent unsuccessful breeding. It is vulnerable to oil spills and other marine pollution. Extreme weather events and storms also pose a threat, with large wrecks recorded following severe winter storms at sea. At the breeding colonies the species is vulnerable to invasive predators, such as rats, cats, and American Mink Neovison vison. The species is susceptible to being caught in gillnets, although other fishing gears may also catch significant numbers. Increasing numbers of offshore wind farms may result in displacement from habitat, although the risk of collision is considered very low (Bradbury et al. 2014). The species is hunted for human consumption in Iceland, and in the Faroe Islands (Thorup et al. 2014). Harvesting, livestock grazing and tourism at its breeding grounds pose additional threats due to disturbance (Nettleship et al. 2014).

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
The species is listed under the African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement. It is included in the Action Plan for Seabirds in Western-Nordic Areas (TemaNord 2010). There are 76 marine Important Bird Areas identified across the European region. Within the EU there are 40 Special Protection Areas which list this species as occurring within its boundaries. 

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Further identification of important sites for this species, particularly in offshore regions and designation as marine protected areas. Increase knowledge of the species's ecological requirements in winter. Develop a monitoring scheme to understand population trends in Iceland and the Faroe Islands (Nettleship et al. 2014). Identify the risks of different activities on seabirds, and locations sensitive to seabirds. Continue eradication of invasive predators from breeding colonies. Management of fisheries to ensure long-term sustainability of key stocks (e.g. sandeels). Establish observer schemes for bycatch and prepare National/Regional plans of action on seabird bycatch. Continue Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) monitoring of seabird contaminants; include new contaminants and secure communication between seabird and contaminants research. Develop a system to monitor and predict impacts of offshore oil developments on important areas for the species, in particular, key wintering sites (Nettleship et al. 2014). Increase the level of understanding among the public of introducing hunting restrictions. Develop codes-of-conduct for more organised activities (e.g. tourism). Ensure that appropriate protection (national laws and international agreements) applies to new areas and times in cases of changes in seabird migration routes and times.

Barrett, R.T., Anker-Nilsson, T., Rikardsen, F., Valde, K., Røv, N. and Vader, W. 1987. The food, growth and fledging success of Norwegian puffin chicks Fratercula arcitica in 1980-1983. Ornis Scandinavica 18: 73-83.

BirdLife International. 2000. The Development of Boundary Selection Criteria for the Extension of Breeding Seabird Special Protection Areas into the Marine Environment. OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic. Vlissingen (Flushing).

BirdLife International. 2015. European Red List of Birds. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.

Bradbury, G., Trinder, M., Furness, B., Banks, A.N., Caldow, R.W.G. and Hume, D. 2014. Mapping Seabird Sensitivity to Offshore Wind Farms. PLoS ONE 9(9): e106366.

Burger, A.E. and Simpson, M. 1986. Diving depths of Atlantic puffins and common murres. Auk 103: 828-830.

Corkhill, P. 1973. Food and feeding ecology of puffins. Bird Study 20(3): 207-220.

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., and Sargatal, J. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Durant, J.; Anker-Nilssen, T.; Stenseth, N. C. 2003. Trophic interactions under climate fluctuations: the Atlantic puffin as an example. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B 270: 1461-1466.

Harris, M.P. 1984. A. & C. Black Publishers Ltd, London, UK.

Harris, M.P. and Hislop, J.R.G. 1978. The food of young puffins. Journal of Zoology 185: 213-236.

Harris, M.P. and Riddiford, N.J. 1989. The food of some young seabirds on Fair Isle in 1986-88. Scottish Birds 15: 119-125.

Harris, M.P. and Wanless, S. 1986. The food of young razorbills on the Isle of May and a comparison with that of young guillemots and puffins. Ornis Scandinavica 17: 41-46.

Harris, M.P. and Wanless, S. 2011. The Puffin. Poyser.

Hislop, J.R.G. and Harris, M.P. 1985. Recent changes in the food of young puffins (Fratercula arctica) on the Isle of May in relation to fish stocks. Ibis 127: 234-239.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Martin, A.R. 1989. The diet of Atlantic puffin Fratercula arctica and northern gannet Sula bassana chicks at a Shetland colony during a period of changing prey availability. Bird Study 36(3): 170-180.

Miles, W.T.S., Mavor, R., Riddiford, N.J., Harvey, P.V., Riddington, R., Shaw, D.N., Parnaby, D. and Reid, J.M. 2015. Decline in an Atlantic Puffin Population: Evaluation of Magnitude and Mechanisms. PLoS ONE 10(7): e0131527.

Nettleship, D.N., Kirwan, G.M., Christie, D.A. and de Juana, E. 2014. Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. and de Juana, E. (eds), Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive, Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Pearson, T.H. 1968. The feeding ecology of sea-bird species breeding on the Farne Islands, Northumberland. Journal of Animal Ecology 37: 521-552.

Piatt, J.F., Nettleship, D.N. 1985. Diving depths of four alcids. The Auk 102: 293-297.

Rodway, M.S., Montevecchi, W. A. 1996. Sampling methods for assessing the diets of Atlantic puffin chicks . Marine Ecology Progress Series 144(1-3): 41-55.

Sandvik, H., Erikstad, K.E., Barrett, R.T. and Yoccoz, N.G. 2005. The effect of climate on adult survival in five species of North Atlantic seabirds. Journal of Animal Ecology 74(5): 817-831.

Stone, C.J., Harrison, N.M., Webb, A. & Best, B.J. Seabird distribution around Skomer and Skokholm Islands, June 1990. 1992. Seabird distribution around Skomer and Skokholm Islands, June 1990.

Stone, C.J., Webb, A., Barton, T.R. & Gordon, J.R.W. 1993. Seabird distribution around Skomer and Skokholm Islands, June 1992.

TemaNord. 2010. Action Plan for Seabirds in Western-Nordic Areas. Report from a workshop in Malmö, Sweden, 4-5 May 2010. Nordic Council of Ministers, Copenhagen.

Thorup, S.H., Jensen, J-K., Petersen, K.T. and Kasper, D.B. 2014. Færøsk Trækfugleatlas. The Faroese Bird Migration Atlas. Faroe University Press, Tórshavn.

Wanless, S., Harris, M.P. and Morris, J.A. 1990. A comparison of feeding areas used by individual common murres (Uria aalge) razorbills (Alca torda) and an Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) during the breeding season. Colonial Waterbirds 13: 16-24.

Webb, A., Tasker, M.L. and Greenstreet, S.P.R. 1985. The distribution of guillemots (Uria aalge), razorbills (Alca torda) and puffins (Fratercula arctica) at sea around Flamborough Head, June 1984.

Further web sources of information
Detailed regional assessment and species account from the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International, 2015)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

View photos and videos and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Ashpole, J, Burfield, I., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Ekstrom, J., Ieronymidou, C., Pople, R., Tarzia, M, Wheatley, H. & Wright, L

Gudmundsson, G., Harris, M., Wanless, S., Anker-Nilssen, T., Carboneras, C., Bourne, W. & Folkestad, A.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Fratercula arctica. Downloaded from on 01/12/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 01/12/2015.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Alcidae (Auks)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1758)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 1,620,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment