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December 2021

Vol. 49, No. 6

Tool Use by Atlantic Puffins?

Jeffrey Boone Miller


Atlantic Puffin. Photograph by Marsha Salett.

Along the New England coast, any sighting of an Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) is likely to bring a smile to even the most weary observer. The reestablishment of nesting populations on several islands off the Maine coast has been a conservation success story (Davis 1992), so birders in our area have a chance to observe their behavior. Puffins can dig burrows for their nests and catch their prey underwater, but is it possible that puffins have the capability to use tools? One group of researchers says yes (Fayet et al. 2020a, 2020b), but others have questioned the strength of the evidence and whether it is sufficient to support this conclusion (Auersperg et al. 2020; Farrar 2020; Sándor and Miklósi 2020; Sándor et al. 2021). Here is the story so far.

In January 2020, Fayet et al. (2020a) published a brief report describing two observations of Atlantic Puffins that the authors interpreted as “evidence of true tool use.” The first observation, on June 18, 2014, was of a puffin “sitting on the sea” near Skomer Island, Wales, that was observed through a spotting scope “holding a wooden stick in its bill and using it to scratch its back for ∼5 s.” The second observation, on July 13, 2018, was from Grimsey Island, Iceland, and was recorded by an automatic camera. The authors describe the action in the ten-second video as “an adult puffin picks up a wooden stick from the ground then uses it to scratch its chest feathers.” The video, titled Movie S1, can be found at .

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