5 Fascinating Facts About the Puffin's Clown-Like Beak

Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch

1. Puffins are famous for their colorful bills, but they only sport such vivid oranges and yellows during part of the year. As spring as breeding season starts, the puffins' beaks become brightly colored. The larger and more colorful beaks may be a sign of being more experienced and healthy, and thus a better mate. But during the winter when puffins have no need to show off, the bills are just faded ghosts of their vibrant summer selves.

2. Their beaks even glow in the dark! When a UV light is shone on the beak, the yellow ridges light up in stunning fluorescent colors, discovered ornithologist Jamie Dunning. But Dunning doesn't know what purpose the fluorescence serves, so he has developed special sunglasses that he will place on puffins caught for tagging to see if their beaks light up.

3. There are three species of puffin and each species has a distinct pattern of color in their bills. Atlantic puffins have multicolored beaks with blue bases and orange and yellow stripes. Horned puffins, such as the one pictured here, have yellow beaks with orange tips. And tufted puffins have bills that are orange with brown or gray bases.

4. The puffin's bill is perfectly designed for catching and carrying a catch of fish. The bill has a layer of spines on the upper part of the beak. Using this and small spines on their tongues, a puffin can catch an hold fish while opening its bill again and again to catch more fish. They don't have to stop fishing until their bill is full!

5. Puffins can hold an average of 10 fish in their bill at once, but the record is an astonishing 62 fish carried at once by a puffin in Britain.