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Haystack Rock


Tufted PuffinFratercula cirrhata

Length: 15 inches
Wingspan: 20 inches
Weight 1.7 lb (780g)

Click here for Puffin Watch Schedule!                                                     Photo Courtesy of Gary Hayes

A colony of 2-300 tufted puffins journeys to Haystack Rock from the sea every summer to breed and hatch their chicks. The puffins arrive in late March or early April and return to the open sea in late July or early August.

When the puffins first arrive they raft offshore for about a week, visiting the colony (in this case, Haystack Rock) periodically to select nest locations. While at Haystack Rock they are in full breeding plumage: jet black body and head, bright orange legs and webbed feet, orange bills with yellow bill plates, creamy white facial feathers and pale yellow plumes (tufts).

The breeding puffins preen, nibble at their mates' bills, and eventually get around to the serious business of establishing nests in the turf-covered slope atop Haystack Rock. Building and maintaining a puffin nest is not a simple matter. They consist of a shallow 2-9 foot tunnel ending in a small chamber. Their one egg is laid in the chamber on a simple pile of grass, feathers and rocks.

Parents share incubation of a single egg for about 6 weeks. Once the chick is born they share feeding duties, carrying fish and squid to the nest until the chicks are strong enough to leave the burrows (6-8 weeks old). Unaided by their parents, when the chicks leave they flutter and scramble down to the water under cover of darkness (they can swim but not yet fly).

PuffinAdult puffins are better swimmers than fliers. Their short, broad wings and webbed feet enable them to 'fly' underwater. Average diving depth is between 30 and 60 feet but puffins have been caught in fishing nets a deep as 210 feet! (Photo courtesy of Brian Godfrey)

Because of their small wing-to-weight ratio, puffins choose the windward side of coastal cliffs for their nest sites. They can be seen launching from the elevated slopes on the north side of Haystack Rock, using the wind and altitude to gain speed necessary for flight. Puffins are easy to identify in flight by their football shape and rapid wing beat.

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