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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Curly locks

"Pelagic week" continues with a few photos of Tufted Puffins (Fratercula cirrhata).  The first two images were taken offshore near Cordell Bank this past weekend.  I've seen single Tufted Puffins on several trips over the years, but on 2 September 2012 we observed three individuals!

Note the black body contrasting with the white face and the very large triangular orange bill.  If you look closely, you can also see the long yellow head-plumes streaming towards the back of the neck.  [The species name, cirrhata, means "curly locks" and refers to these special plumes.]

Tufted Puffins range from Alaska to California.  Around 82% of the worldwide population nests in North America; the rest are in Russia.  Of the 82% in N.A., the numbers look like this:

0.1% in California
0.2% in Oregon
0.9% in Washington
3.1% in British Columbia
96% in Alaska 

In California, the two main nesting colonies are on the Farallon Islands and Castle Rock near Crescent City.  They used to nest on the Channel Islands, but I read that the last sighting there was in 1997 (Does anyone know otherwise?).  

On Los Farallones blog, researchers write that they counted 240 pairs of Tufted Puffins on the Farallon Islands this year.

Eric took a few puffin photos during an August 2001 research visit to Tatoosh Island off the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.

Tufted Puffins only come ashore to nest.  Otherwise, they're far out to sea, especially in winter.  They're the most pelagic of the alcids (e.g., auks, auklets, murres, murrelets, guillemots, and puffins).  They feed on both fish and invertebrates, including squid and euphausiids (krill). 

Here's one more view from Tatoosh:

P.S.  Thanks to the Birds of North America account (Piatt and Kitaysky 2002) for some of the facts above.  Their opening line made me smile: "Tufted Puffins are cool."

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