Swooping in for a landing, an Atlantic puffin brings a meal for its chick on Scotland’s Treshnish Isles. Puffin parents make up to eight food runs a day; each bird can grip 20 or more fish in its beak.<br>
Swooping in for a landing, an Atlantic puffin brings a meal for its chick on Scotland’s Treshnish Isles. Puffin parents make up to eight food runs a day; each bird can grip 20 or more fish in its beak.

Puffin Therapy

The Atlantic puffin simply vanishes for months at a time. But when it returns to land, the fearless, clown-faced seabird is a sight that soothes the soul of many a bird-watcher.

Here they come, wings beating like a manic pulse, bodies a blur of black and white, a flash of orange from beaks cartoonishly large. Cliff tops, empty and dark for months, turn to commotion near the beginning of April with the arrival of antic, adorable-looking Atlantic puffins.

Smallest of the four puffin species, they have come en masse to breed on Britain’s rumpled islands and coasts, the more remote, unpeopled, and predator free, the better. No one is certain precisely how and where Fratercula arctica (“little friar of the Arctic,” so named for its monkish, dark-colored hood) spends the rest of the year. They are somewhere in the vast northern seas, solitary, almost never seen, as they fly, feed, and float.

Ah, but spring. It’s like carnival time for puffins. Breeding is the only excuse for these seabirds to go on land. They become intensely social, courting, mating, tussling. Assemblages vary from a few hundred pairs in Maine to tens of thousands in Iceland. The British Isles, scene of Danny Green’s photographs, attract about 10 percent of an estimated 20 million Atlantic puffins (nobody really knows), with Iceland claiming almost half.

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