November 5, 2011

Wildlife Wonders of Alaska - Seabirds

I have already introduced you with the tufted puffin, which so politely posed for me during a memorable photo shoot. The tufted variety has strands of “hair” billowing off on the sides of its head. They are not as well known as the horned puffin, which gets most of the publicity. We got to see the horned puffin at the Alaska SeaLife Center and also when we had our boat tour around the Kenai Fjords National Park. 

The horned puffin has quite a fan base, and sailors have dubbed them as the “sea parrot” because of their distinctive looks and colorful beak. It is interesting to note that a puffin sheds the colorful outer part of its bill after the breeding season, leaving a smaller and duller beak. Standing at 15 inches tall, their wingspan is 23 inches. These short wings are adapted for both swimming and flying. In the water, the wings propel them and the large webbed feet are used for maneuvering. 

Like many seabirds, puffins nest underground. They use clawed toes to scratch out nest burrows, digging down 3 to 4 feet. Where soil is scarce, they will nest in rocky slopes on cliff faces. 

The common murre looks a bit like a penguin, but it is actually in the same Alcidae family as puffins. We saw several of these fascinating birds out at sea, but we weren’t close enough for me to get clear pictures of them. The one shown below resides at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. The common murre is almost always seen in the water, except during the breed season. They are not agile in the air. But they make up for it in water, excelling in swimming and diving. Incredibly, the common murre can dive more than 100 meters down in search of fish. 

Adults are 17 inches tall and have a wingspan of 28 inches. Considering their size, they have the most densely packed nesting colonies of any bird. The common murre must get along with their neighbors because the nests are so close that the incubating adults touch on either side. Another interesting fact is that a “nest” is located on a steep cliff but not constructed. It merely consists on one egg on bare rock. One little bobble, and the egg can easily drop off!


  1. Good heavens! What kind of parenting is that? One bobble and the egg can drop off indeed. We love our little puffins up here. Those who go to sea are the ones who see them most.

  2. Beautiful birds, Donna.. The murre does look like he's in the penguin family. The Puffins are so pretty. Love the colors. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Oh the little puffins are so cute!

  4. Ooh...they're so dang cute! But not so smart....nesting on a steep cliff????

  5. what wonderful bird shots. how interesting that the puffin sheds it's colorful beak. Sounds typical though, once the guy gets the girl he no longer feels the need to impress her

  6. As Usual, you photography is worthy of a magazine cover! Cool shots Donna!
    One egg on a rocky slope....hummmm...I can think of One Egg, had this been the way of humans, that I wouldn't have missed dropping into the sea...Hahahaaa...Does Washington have any slopes?
    Happy Sunday Girl!

  7. Love the puffins...have seen them but never actually in the wild. Great shots!

  8. So beautiful, as always, Donna!

    I'm also laughing at D from Texas, bad girl. LOL

    Have a blessed Sunday!


  9. How interesting! I remember getting a Puffin beanie baby and thinking that it didn't look like a real bird! But now I see it is very unique! ♥

  10. Oh they are beautiful! Puffins are special but I love the murre.


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