We all love these cuties. Back in 2016, when I visited Faroes, I was captivated by these birds, especially their faces, with their big beaks. I sat on the edge of a cliff and watched these birds come and go, mesmerized. Their odd-shaped bodies and that funky beak, made me wonder: why do the puffins have these really big beaks? Well, I now have my answer, thanks to a group of researchers from McGill University and the University of California, Davis.
They have concluded that beak is part of the heat management of the birds during flight. Apparently, when flying, an average puffin produces as much heat that is equivalent to the heat emanating from a light bulb. Given they are covered well with feathers to counter the really cold temperatures, they can’t be sweating, so it has to be the beak. They have found that:
Their data showed that within 30 minutes of landing, the temperature of the puffin beaks dropped by 5°C (25°C – 20°C), while the heat radiating from their backs hardly changed. The beak “accounted for 10-18% of total heat exchange despite making up only 6%” of the bird’s total surface area. But why would puffins have evolved such a large bill? Kyle Elliott, a professor in McGill’s Department of Natural Resource Sciences, thinks it could have to do with the energy they use when they fly.Journal of Experimental Biology