Puffins are one of the most distinctive sea birds in coastal Alaska. Both varieties found in Alaska – the tufted puffin and the horned puffin – feature bright-orange beaks and webbed feet with black-and-white coloring. Early sailors called them “sea parrots” because of this color scheme. The tufted puffin is named for the golden tufts of feathers behind each eye, while the horned puffin is named for the black horn-like markings over each eye. Their average wingspan is 25-30 inches and they weigh about 1.5 pounds.
Puffins are built for swimming underwater rather than for flying, and the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, a wildlife rescue, rehabilitation, and education center, allows visitors to watch puffins and other seabirds dive to the bottom of their multi-level seabird enclosure for food. When they dive, puffins flap their wings through the water, appearing to fly. After they scoop the food off the bottom, they simply point their beaks toward the surface and slide up through the water.
Where to find them
Puffins are found in Southeast, Southcentral, and Southwest Alaska along the coast. The best way to see puffins is on a wildlife cruise or kayaking trip departing from coastal communities like Seward, Valdez, and Kodiak. Your best bet for up-close views of puffins is at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, where you can join a Puffin Encounter tour and go behind the scenes to meet and feed the center’s resident puffins.
When to come
Puffins spend May through September in rookeries along the coast, nesting in dirt burrows or in notches in the rocky coast. Here, each breeding pair rears one baby per season, tending the egg until around July, then carefully guarding the delicate baby until fall, when it is capable of feeding itself. Puffins tend to spend the winter at sea in the North Pacific Ocean.