Readers’ wildlife photos

Jacques Hausser of Switzerland sent some photos of puffins, noting “I would have had time to select additional photos, but I preferred to hear Svante Pââbo’s lecture. Interesting !” So be it! His notes are below:

Earlier this summer I sent you several photos of sea birds and waders from the Shetland. Probably because of my chronic distraction, I just forgot the really iconic (and really cute) species of these islands: the Atlantic Puffin, Fratercula arctica. “Fratercula” means little brother, or little monk. Probably due to changes in the abundance and distribution of their main food, the sand eels, the species has recently strongly plummeted, but not as dramatically as shown by some papers.

Proudly sitting in front of its burrow. They mostly use abandoned rabbit holes, (somebody told me they can actually expel the real owner), but can dig it themselves if necessary. Their curious and colorful bill fades (yes! at least the superficial layer) every autumn and regrows in the spring.

Unlike the other Alcidae, the razorbill and the guillemots, the puffin walks normally and can even run. This one was running to his burrow after waiting for a while until some lady, innocently sitting over the entrance, left. You have to be careful when you visit a colony!
The short wings of the puffin are used both to fly in the air and under the water (photo by my daughter):

As we visited the Shetland early in June, we didn’t see adults bringing back sand-eels to their young. Actually, they were just preparing their nests, as shown here (photo by my daughter).

The binocular vision field doesn’t seem to be very large in this species. But it is large enough to catch swift fishes!

29 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted October 27, 2018 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Delightful!

  2. rickflick
    Posted October 27, 2018 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    A humorous looking bird. What a great opportunity to photograph!

  3. Samedi
    Posted October 27, 2018 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Beautiful bird. I wonder what selective pressure produced such a colorful bill and the interesting color pattern of its plumage? Evolution is capable of producing such amazing creatures.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted October 27, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      Well, when there is no clear logical explanation we always look at sexual selection. I mean even humans, not only a different species, but a different order, find them attractive.
      I do not affirmatively contend it is runaway selection as proposed by Fisher, but it suspiciously looks like it. And when we look at Tinbergen’s red spot on gull beaks, it might even have some ‘logical’ origins.

    • mikeyc
      Posted October 27, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      The bill is interesting and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a function for the patterns and colors it but a dark dorsal and light ventral surface are a common coloration among sea critters. From above it makes them harder to see, from below too. Helps in predation (both avoiding and committing).

      • Diane G
        Posted October 27, 2018 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

        Beat me to it. Countershading, indeed. Often seen on flying birds…uh, non oceanic ones…as well. Fish, squirrels…

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Countershading

        • Samedi
          Posted October 28, 2018 at 8:21 am | Permalink

          @mikeyc and @diane

          I had not connected he Puffin’s coloration with that of the killer whale’s. And, that this particular pattern of coloration belongs to the more general pattern of countershading. Thanks, I learned something new today. The technical aspects of evolution are fascinating.

          • Diane G
            Posted October 29, 2018 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

            Indeed! 🙂

  4. Frank Bath
    Posted October 27, 2018 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    I have watched puffins on the Channel Island of Sark. They are a comic delight. We used to call them the parrots of the north.

    • Diane G
      Posted October 27, 2018 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

      Interesting. Birders often call alcids penquins of the north. 🙂

      • Diane G
        Posted October 27, 2018 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

        ‘penguins’

  5. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted October 27, 2018 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Great photographs.
    I once saw footage of a great black-backed gull catching and swallowing a puffin on the wing. It changed my outlook on puffins, and greater black backed gulls.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted October 27, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      It was weird. It swallowed it whole. Puffins are preyed upon by greater Black-backed gulls, not just chicks or eggs, but adults. I find that unnerving.

      • Diane G
        Posted October 27, 2018 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

        GBB Gulls are scary that way! Same as herons, other large waders…But somehow it seems more malevolent with the gulls.

  6. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted October 27, 2018 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Wonderful pictures and commentary. I would very much like to see this species.

  7. Posted October 27, 2018 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  8. Michael Fisher
    Posted October 27, 2018 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Great photos of an engaging bird

  9. Terry Sheldon
    Posted October 27, 2018 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I hereby nominate puffins for status as honorary cats!

    • Claudia Baker
      Posted October 27, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      +1!

  10. Posted October 27, 2018 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Absolutely freaking stunning!

  11. mikeyc
    Posted October 27, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    They look worried

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted October 27, 2018 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      And have good reason.

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted October 27, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        lol

  12. Posted October 27, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I love the puffins! Beautiful pictures. More puffins please.

  13. ladyatheist
    Posted October 27, 2018 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Possibly the world’s most adorable bird!

  14. Diane G
    Posted October 27, 2018 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Awww! Who doesn’t love puffins! Thanks for the excellent photos, Jacques et fille, and helpful notes as well.

  15. Steve Barnes
    Posted October 28, 2018 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    This must be some of the most wonderful avian photography I’ve ever seen. Well done, Jacques!

    (I suppose they’re technically if not literally avian?)

    • Diane G
      Posted October 29, 2018 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

      They do fly, if that’s what you’re referring to. 🙂

  16. Posted October 28, 2018 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Wow, great shots! These are such interesting creatures. Thank you for sharing 😊


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