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A white wave shape.

Tufted puffin

“The parrots of the sea”

Tufted puffins, Fratercula cirrhata, are known as the “parrots of the sea” because of their distinctive and bright coloring during the summer breeding season. Keep reading to see how they change in the winter!

At the Aquarium

Winters at sea

Tufted puffins are pelagic, which means they spend their winters living on the open ocean and return to shore for the breeding season. When on shore, tufted puffins live along rocky coastlines and nest primarily in deep burrows that they dig into cliff faces or slopes. These burrows can be up to five feet deep—that’s a lot of digging!

Summer vs. winter plumage

All birds molt, or periodically shed all or part of their feathers. Some birds, like tufted puffins, also shed their bill coverings. Tufted puffins display an ornamental bill plate, as well as brilliant orange legs, a white “face mask” and distinctive golden tufts above the eyes during the summer breeding season. In the winter, the color of their legs becomes dull, their brilliant white “mask” is replaced with dark feathers, their tufts disappear and their bill plate falls off.

Help care for tufted puffins

Tufted puffins are supremely well-adapted to life at sea. But, like all animals, they need a healthy, safe environment in order to thrive. Human-caused hazards such as oil spills, fishing nets, pesticides and habitat destruction pose the biggest threats to tufted puffins. When you take action to care for the ocean, you’re also helping tufted puffins!

Quick facts

These birds dive underwater to catch their dinner.

A baby puffin is called a “puffling.” Too cute!

Tufted puffins sport ornamental plumage above their eyes during their breeding season.

Explore More Birds

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Two sea otters at the Seattle Aquarium floating on the water in their habitat, holding onto each other demonstrating a rafting behavior.

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An adult sea otter at the Seattle Aquarium looking upwards with its front paws resting on its front.

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Sea otter at the Seattle Aquarium laying on its back, raising its head and front paws.

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