A tiny Horned Puffin is doing well at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. The chick hatched in July at the Rocky Shores habitat for sea birds.
This is the first Horned Puffin ever hatched at the zoo, which has been home to four adult members of this species since October 2014.
The chick will be visible, periodically. However, zoo guests are likely to only catch glimpses of its tiny beak as it ventures to the front of its nesting area.
“The chick’s parents take turns feeding it, and visitors can see them going to and fro with food, or watching over the nest box,” said staff biologist, Cindy Roberts.
Earlier this year, zookeepers took the initiative to build nest boxes for the Horned Puffins. They consulted with experts at the Alaska Sea Life Center to build boxes for the mating pair.
Zookeepers at Point Defiance Zoo give daily feeding presentations and talk to visitors about Horned Puffins, Tufted Puffins and Common Murres.
“Staff won’t know whether the chick is male or female, until it’s old enough for staff to collect a small blood sample from which gender and general health status can be determined,” Roberts continued.
A “well-chick-check-up” from a zoo veterinarian recently found the baby Puffin to be in good health.
The Horned Puffin (Fratercula corniculata) is an auk, similar in appearance to the Atlantic Puffin. It is a seabird that feeds primarily by diving for fish, and it nests in colonies, often with other auks.
They are found on the coasts of Japan, Russia, British Columbia and Alaska. They spend winters in the ocean, as far south as the Washington coast.
Like all sea birds, Horned Puffins face a number of threats in the wild, including predators, oil spills, plastic pollution, over fishing and entanglement in fishing nets.
The incubation period for a Horned Puffin is about 40 days. After hatching, the chick spends 40 more days in the burrow until it fledges and has gained the necessary strength and feathers to go out on its own.
At its current stage, the zoo’s new puffin chick looks like a black-and-gray ball of fluff with a dark gray beak. However, as it grows, it will take on the full black-and-white body of a Horned Puffin, and its beak will turn a distinctive yellowish-orange with a red tip.
Adult Horned Puffins also have bright orange feet and legs. During breeding season, they have characteristic “cheeks” with a “horn” above the eyes.
In addition to its Horned Puffin colony, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium has a complement of 21 Tufted Puffins and seven Common Murres living in the Rocky Shores sea bird habitat.