With its black-and-white plumage offset by a gaudy orange-patterned bill, the Atlantic Puffin is the bird equivalent of a circus clown dressed in a tuxedo. And indeed the species can be entertaining to watch. Puffins frequently capture several fish in one dive and return to the surface with them dangling from their bills. Like penguins and other members of the Auk family, they swim with their wings. They literally fly through the water, using their feet as rudders.
My intimate acquaintance with these birds might not have been possible if not for the Tufts biologist Norton Nickerson, who has been the greatest influence on my life aside from my parents. Studying with “Dr. Nick” in the Bahamas confirmed that biology was the right career for me, and I now teach botany, marine biology, environmental science, and tropical ecology.
The photo above is one of several hundred that I took while concealed in a bird blind on tiny, rocky Machias Seal Island—in the Gulf of Maine—where real estate development is limited to a single lighthouse. Puffins congregate there by the thousands.
More photos by Shumway appear in his book A Naturalist’s Guide to the Atlantic Seashore: Beach Ecology from the Gulf of Maine to Cape Hatteras.