They’re cute, they’re colorful, they’re puffy… They’re puffins! And the tiny town of Elliston, Newfoundland, has the largest concentration of these little cuties in North America. If you want to see puffins up-close and personal, here are the best tips and information to help you do just that!
Fun Facts about Puffins
They’re not just adorable, they’re also very interesting!
Puffins Mate for Life
Puffins are as sweet as they are cute. The use those bright orange beaks to attract a mate. But it can’t be just any mate. It’s a mate for life! They mature around the age of five, take a lover, and stay together for the next 15 years or so. They use the same nest every year that they return to together, as well.
I wonder if puffins get tired of each other? What to Know About Your Travel Buddy (before you travel together)
There are Thousands of Puffins in Elliston from May-August
It’s true! Elliston, once known as “Bird Island Cove,” is the breeding ground for many seabirds, including the Atlantic Puffin. Thousands of puffin pairs come here for four months out of the year to nest. The rest of the year, they live at sea! You may still see a few puffins into September, but plan to visit May-August if possible. The only puffin who stays all year round is “The Puffin King,” a rock formation at the site!
They Burrow Under Ground
You may notice that there are no trees where the puffins hang out. They don’t need a tree. They make their nest underground! They can burrow underground for a mile, kind of like a fox hole. This way, the nests are safe from other seabirds or predators.
Also helpful: 5 Reasons Everyone Needs an Island Getaway
A Baby Puffin is Called a “Puffling”
How cute is that?! A pair of puffins nests in Elliston for about five months. The male builds the nest, and the pair shares responsibility for their single egg. They take turns laying on the egg for 39-45 days, then the chick hangs out until it’s ready to fly the coop about 50 days later.
For more on puffins in Elliston, check out the official Town of Elliston website!
Where and How to See the Puffins
You will want to head to the Bonavista Peninsula for your best chance at seeing the puffins! Here are the best places, along with tips to see them.
The Puffin Viewing Area, Elliston
Good news… There is a FREE, designated Puffin Viewing Area! The parking lot is just aorund the corner (there is no parking at the viewing area), and once you’ve parked, you can walk along the well-worn path to the viewing area. You’ll be a little far away (i.e. out of reasonable selfie range), but still within full view of the nesting puffins and a variety of other seabirds as well. The terrain is soft and rather uneven, so watch your step.
Spillars Cove, Lancaster
We didn’t have any luck seeing puffins here, but we were told you can often see them in this beautiful spot. Even if you don’t see puffins here, however, you’ll be glad you came! The dramatic cliffs and rock formations in the water make for epic photos, and you might just have it all to yourself!
Cape Bonavista Lighthouse, Bonavista
We had the best luck here! There were hundreds of active puffins flapping about on the little rock island across from the lighthouse, which is free to visit, and you can go all the way inside and up to the top. We sat and watched the puffins here for quite a while. I’m not sure if it was lunch time or what, but these guys were more active for us than the ones at the Puffin Viewing Area the evening before. Need help to see them from a distance, there is a view finder on the porch of one of the buildings.
Keep reading: 10 Trips to Change Your Life
What You’re Looking For
Here’s something no one else is putting in their blog posts about puffins: They’re small! I was surprised at how tiny they were, and not just because we were viewing from a distance. This isn’t a bad thing, and it totally adds to their cuteness, but it’s something to know so you know what you’re looking for!
Also, they nest in the ground, so as you’re watching for them, it’s like they just popup out of nowhere, and then they disappear as quickly as they appeared before. They also flap their wings really fast, instead of sort of gliding along like other seabirds tend to do. Again, not bad, just completely adorable!
Read next: Tips for Driving in Canada
Tips for Photographing Puffins
You will definitely want to get some photos of the cutie pies! You are not allowed to use drones at the Puffin Viewing Area, but you can still get amazing photos. Here are my top tips for making it happen.
Bring a “Real” Camera (and Telephoto Lens) If You Have One
I’ve never made it a secret that all my photos are taken with my iPhone. It’s awesome for the vast majority of photos for my blogging and personal uses. However, because the puffins are actually on a little island and not right next to you at the official Puffin Viewing Area, the zoom on your regular iPhone is simply not enough (my one beef with iPhone cameras: the “zoom” is not a true zoom!).
So, bring your “real” camera if you have one, and a telephoto lens is good to bring with you as well. Don’t go out and buy new equipment just for this, but there are some options for my fellow iPhone photography enthusiasts:
Get There Early
The sun comes up early way up north in the late spring and summer, so it’ll be easier for you to get up early, too! You could get the prime spot to get all your puffin pics, but you might have to wake up early for it.
Someone has to say it: The Top Benefits of Being an Early Bird on Travel
Sit a Spell
As with all things in nature, it’s never exactly as you want it to be, when you want it to be. Once you have a place to watch with a good view, just wait it out! You’ll find that picture perfect scene soon enough, and it’ll be worth the wait.
Keep reading: What to Know Before You Visit Newfoundland
The Best Shot is the Shot You Got
This is the best advice for any photography, whether in nature, action shots, or on general travel. Memories are great, but photos are also great reminders. Don’t get so caught up in getting the “perfect” shot that you end up with nothing at all! Take the photos you have the opportunity to get, then take your time to set up your perfect photo. Even if you don’t get the one you want, at least you have the one you have.
More here: The Ultimate List of Travel Photography Tips
Want more? Check out everything you need to plan your Newfoundland trip on my dedicated Canada Page!
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