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Horned Puffin Fratercula corniculata


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Horned Puffin, breeding adult on rock
credit: Vernon Byrd, USFWS

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Family: Alcidae, Auks, Murres, Puffins view all from this family

Description ADULT SUMMER Has black neck, back and wings, dark gray crown, and otherwise white plumage that includes striking white face. Bill is mainly yellow with orange-red tip and notably swollen orange base of gape. Eye is surrounded by orange-red orbital ring and dark eyeline and vertical "horn" above eye are highlighted as if by mascara. ADULT WINTER Similar, but has darker, duller, and smaller bill plates, bill being "pinched in" at base. Face is much darker and eye lacks ornamentation. JUVENILE Recalls winter adult in plumage terms, but dark bill is much shallower (almost gull-like).

Dimensions Length: 14 1/2" (37 cm)

Habitat A mainly Alaskan specialty in breeding season, and locally common there, nesting colonially in crevices on sea cliffs. Off-duty breeders are often seen swimming in waters close to breeding colonies. In winter, range extends south and species is entirely pelagic and typically lives in offshore waters, well away from land.

Observation Tips Easy to see if you visit an Alaskan breeding colony in summer and relatively easy to see in inshore Alaskan seas at this time of year. Outside breeding season, most sightings comprise chance oceanic encounters from boats.

Range Alaska, Western Canada, California, Northwest

Voice Sitting birds sometimes utter grumbling calls from within rockcrevice nesting sites; otherwise silent.

Discussion Bizarre-looking and distinctive alcid that is unmistakable within its western range. In breeding season, laterally flattened bill is disproportionately huge and colorful. Swims buoyantly, dives frequently after small fish, and flight is speedy. Adopts upright posture when standing on rocks. Sexes are similar.