We can all tell that Atlantic Puffins are some of the most adorable birds out there, but did you know they’re also hopeless romantics? To mate, puffins form long-term relationships, where the male builds the nest and both parents incubate the egg and feed the chick, known as a “puffling.” Happy Valentine’s Day!
I observed with concern the extraordinary affection manifested by these birds towards each other; for whenever one fell dead or wounded on the water, its mate or a stranger immediately alighted by its side, swam round it, pushed it with its bill as if to urge it to fly or dive, and seldom would leave it until an oar was raised to knock it on the head when at last, aware of the danger, it would plunge below in an instant.
He also observed their behavior during the “love season”:
During the love season, the males chase each other in the air, on the water, or beneath its surface, with so much quickness as to resemble the ricochets of a cannon ball. Having kept several for about a week, I threw them overboard in the harbour where we were at anchor, and where the water was beautifully clear. On leaving my gloved hand they plunged through the air, entered the water, and swam off, assisting themselves by their wings to the distance of from fifty to an hundred yards. On coming up they washed their plumage for a long time and then dived in search of food.
Labrador, a Canadian province of Newfoundland, is an area known for its puffin colonies. Determined to illustrate the nesting behavior of the puffins, Audubon depicted one of the two adults head-on and foreshortened in its burrow to showcase its breeding plumage, and the other positioned on guard in profile to display its rainbow-colored beak. Audubon recounted that some puffins “flew past us with the speed of an arrow, others stood erect at the entrance of their burrows, while some withdrew within their holes.”
Audubon’s puffins, and many other water birds, will be on view starting March 14 in Audubon’s Aviary: Parts Unknown (Part II of The Complete Flock).