Friday, September 11, 2015

Don's Blog Greenland III Birds 2 The Puffin

One of my secret goals in going to Greenland was to see a puffin in the real. I have long had romantic thoughts about this awkward bird with orange feet and a most colorful beak. The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) is an Alcid (Auk) which feeds primarily by diving into the water. Their short wings are adapted for swimming with a flying technique under the water. In air flight they can move their wings up to 400 beats per minute (not exactly hummingbird territory). Their large and colorful bill is shed after breeding season.

This is breeding time and the chicks in the nesting burrows need to be fed. Puffins are unique in their ability to hold several small fish crosswise in their bill.
This is made possible by a specific hinging mechanism in their beak which allows them to hold multiple fish at the same time.This gives them a remarkable advantage over most water birds that can bring only a single fish back to their chicks and then must regurgitate it. 

My interest in puffins has been long term. These Inuit carvings from Alaska and Nunavut show that the carvers held a romantic view of these special birds.
These carvings which are much older than me definitely produced a desire to see this amazing bird.

Lest we get too caught up in the romantic world of the puffin I must mention something I learned on our expedition. In Iceland the puffin is not protected and is collected by a method called "sky fishing" (nets capture the flying birds) and eaten. I thought, "Really?".

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