Horned Puffins

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I will return to the Coastal Brown Bears once more but first I’m going to spend a few days showing images of some of the other wildlife that I photographed in Alaska.

One afternoon we took a short boat trip to visit a small island a few miles to the west of where were staying.  And, on our trip’s final day, we drove from Anchorage to Seward where we boarded another boat in order to view the diverse wildlife inhabiting Resurrection Bay and its environs.  On both trips we saw numerous Horned Puffins.

Puffins are species of auk, aquatic birds of the Northern Hemisphere that occupy niches similar to those occupied by some penguins in the Southern Hemisphere.  They subsist entirely on small fish,  for which they dive.  Puffins, unlike penguins, are capable of flight.  Two species of puffin inhabit coastal Alaska, the Horned Puffin and the Tufted Puffin.  We saw both species.  However, I was only able to capture acceptable images of Horned Puffins.

All puffins are renowned for their somewhat comical appearance and their huge, colorful beaks.

Puffins have made a few evolutionary compromises to attain their present form.  They capture their prey by “flying” after it under water, using their wings to propel them after the small fish that are their mainstay.  Their wings are short and stubby in proportion to their bodies, great for swimming, but not so great for flying.  In the air, puffins are somewhat awkward fliers, keeping themselves aloft with extremely rapid and choppy wingbeats.

Taking off is a challenge for puffins.  It’s hard for them to generate enough lift under those stubby wings to become airborne.  In order to achieve flight, puffins must generate a fair amount of speed.  It is impossible for them to take off from a standstill, as many other birds are capable of doing.

On land, puffins roost on cliffs 50 feet or more above the water.  In taking off from their cliff perches,  puffins simply dive off headlong and count on gravity to accelerate them to a speed sufficient to attain flight.  That is a crude but effective strategy albeit a risky one.  Diving puffins risk being blown into the rocks by unanticipated wind currents.

It’s a very different story when taking off from the water.  There, it requires a supreme effort to become airborne.  In order to get airborne from water a puffin must frantically flap its little wings.  It uses its legs and feet to propel it along the water’s surface as it attempts to fly.  For a few seconds, a puffin attempting to take off from the water’s surface literally runs on the water, beating its wings as quickly as possible as it does so.

Our group’s leader, Aaron Baggenstos, made a slow-motion video of a puffin taking off from the water.  The video shows that the puffin “ran” for 21 steps before becoming airborne.

Truly remarkable, are these birds.

Images made with a Canon 5Div.  Images 2, 3, 4, and 6 shot with a 100-400mm ISII zoom lens.  Images 1 and 5 shot with the same lens but with the addition of a 1.4x telextender.  All images shot at aperture priority setting.  Image 1 shot at ISO 1000, f8 @ 1/640.  Images 2, 3, 4 and 6 shot at ISO 640, f5.6 @ 1/4000.  Image 5 shot at ISO 1000, f6.3 @ 1/800.


One Reply to “Horned Puffins”

  1. tkiiatmindspringcom says:

    Wonderful pictures of puffins!

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