Puffins belong to the family of birds known as alcids. They are pelagic seabirds that feed primarily by diving in the water. The Puffin is a stocky, short-winged and short-tailed bird, with black upper parts and white or brownish-grey underparts. The head has a black cap, the face is mainly white, and the feet are orange-red. The bill is large and colorful during the breeding season. The colourful outer part of the bill is shed after the breeding season. |
Although Puffins are vocal at their breeding colonies, they are silent at sea. They fly relatively high above the water, typically over 30 feet high. They breed in large colonies on coastal cliffs or offshore islands, nesting in crevices among rocks or in burrows in the soil. Two species, the Tufted Puffin and Horned Puffin, are found in the North Pacific Ocean, while the Atlantic Puffin is found in the North Atlantic Ocean.
All puffin species have predominantly black or black and white plumage, a stocky build, and large beaks. They shed the colourful outer parts of their bills after the breeding season, leaving a smaller and duller beak. Their short wings are adapted for swimming with a flying technique under water. In the air, they beat their wings rapidly (up to 400 times per minute)in swift flight, often flying low over the ocean's surface.
Gulls or seagulls are birds in the family Laridae. They are most closely related to the terns (family Sternidae) and only distantly related to auks, skimmers, and more distantly to the waders. Until the twenty-first century most gulls were placed in the genus Larus, but this arrangement is now known to be polyphyletic, leading to the resurrection of several genera.
Gulls are typically medium to large birds, usually grey or white, often with black markings on the head or wings. They typically have harsh wailing or squawking calls, stout, longish bills, and webbed feet. Most Gulls will take live food or scavenge opportunistically. Live food often includes crabs and small fish. Gulls are typically long-living birds, with a maximum age of almost 50 years recorded for the Herring Gull.
Gull species range in size from the Little Gull, at 4.2 oz and 11.5 inches, to the Great Black-backed Gull, at 3.8 lbs and 30 inches. They are generally uniform in shape, with heavy bodies, long wings, moderately long necks. Gulls breed on every continent, including the margins of Antarctica, and are found in the high Arctic as well. They are less common on tropical islands, although a few species do live on islands such as the Galapagos and New Caledonia.
Terns belongs to a family of birds known as Sternidae. They are, in general, medium to large birds, typically with grey or white plumage, often with black markings on the head. They have longish bills and webbed feet. They are lighter bodied and more streamlined than gulls, and look elegant in flight with long tails and long narrow wings. Terns range in size from the Least Tern, at 1.5 oz and 9 inches, to the Caspian Tern, at 1.4 lbs and 21 inches. They make harsh, single-note calls. Many terns breeding in temperate zones are long-distance migrants, and the Arctic Tern probably sees more daylight than any other creature, as it migrates from its northern breeding grounds to Antarctic waters.
Most Terns feed on fish by diving, often hovering first, but the Marsh Terns pick insects off the surface of fresh water. Terns only glide infrequently; a few species, notably Sooty Tern, will soar high above the sea. Apart from bathing, they only rarely swim, despite having webbed feet. Terns generally nest in large, densely packed colonies (an exception to this is the White Tern). Depending on the species and habitat, the nests may consist of unlined scrapes in the ground, or of flimsy collections of sticks on trees or floating vegetation. Terns are generally long-living birds, with several species now known to live in excess of 25–30 years.
The Skimmers, are a small family of tern-like birds in the order Charadriiformes, which also includes the waders, gulls and auks. The family comprises three species found in South Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The three species are the only birds with distinctive uneven bills with the lower mandible longer than the upper.
This remarkable adaptation allows them to fish in a unique way, flying low and fast over streams. Their lower mandible skims or slices over the water's surface ready to snap shut any small fish unable to dart clear. The Skimmers are sometimes included within the gull family Laridae but separated in other treatments which consider them as a sister group of the terns. The Black Skimmer has an additional adaptation and is the only species of bird known to have slit-shaped pupils. Their bills fall within their field of binocular vision and enable them to carefully position their bill and capture fish. They are agile in flight and gather in large flocks along rivers and coastal sand banks.
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