Your Unanswered Questions from Puffin Live Chat
After last week’s Puffin Live Cam Live Chat with Dr. Steve Kress, we had a few great questions but not enough time to answer them. Fear no more! Below, Dr. Kress took the time to circle back around and give some insight into your insightful questions!
- Do puffins vocalize when at sea? Little is known about puffins when they are see. And this is one of the mysteries. Given that vocalizations are thought to be primarily associated with defense of the burrow and announcing the arrival of returning mates, neither of these functions would be associated with ocean (pelagic) life. So, my hunch is that puffins would be largely quiet.
- Have there been any studies on the cognitive abilities of puffins? Not to my knowledge.
- Why do puffins move their beaks like they are chattering; but, you cannot hear any sounds? Puffins open their bills (beak is usually used for land birds) for a variety of reasons beyond eating. Actually, the bill is closed during calling. They may open it for yawning and threat displays. I have not observed the ‘chattering.’
- Both Phoebe and Finnegan chainsawed to Pal as soon as he was born. Is this part of imprinting? It was more likely a communication between the mated pair
- When the puffins shake their heads in warning, it makes a whirring sound. Is this a function of that large bill? Probably- that extreme head shaking was a behavior that I had not seen previously.
- Do puffins have vocal chords? Birds lack vocal chords, but have a syrinx- a sound producing extension of their trachea which makes sounds when muscles squeeze the box and air is expelled.
- Are Puffins considered an endangered species? Puffins are not endangered (fortunately). In Maine, they are listed as ‘Threatened.’
- How do puffins know how to re-locate (find again) their burrow when they return for mating season? Birds have remarkable memories for location, both on a large sense (for migration clues) and micro-habitats, where they nest and where they can store food. They probably use magnetic fields for long distance migration and site recognition of landmarks such as specific boulders, but this is an area of promising research.
- How many of the Puffins that return mate and have a chick? About 20% of the puffins at a nesting island are non-breeders.
- Why are puffins allowed to be eaten as a delicacy. Shouldn’t that kind of activity be banned? Puffins are still eaten in Iceland, but now this is occurring mostly in northern Iceland where the populations are not experiencing threats from lost forage fish supplies.
- Foot injuries on puffins (e.g. Finn)…? Foot injuries are common for seabirds. An encounter with a predatory fish is the likely reason that Finn is missing some of his webbing.
(Thanks to CamOp Joellen for the snapshot!)