Quantifying and interpreting variability in the coloured breeding ornamentation of the Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

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University of New Brunswick


The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) is widely recognized for its colourful bill and feet. Puffins use their bills in many social interactions, but it is unknown what role colour plays in these events. To investigate the relationship between colour and measures of individual quality, I photographed 98 adult puffins at Machias Seal Island, Canada and extracted colour data from regions of the bill and foot in ColourWorker© computer software. Using general linear mixed models, I investigated relationships between ornament colour and measures of quality. Body condition was not considered an important indicator of colour for any structure. A weak relationship between colour and bill groove count, trapping method, and sex was observed. In general, known breeding birds or those with two or more bill grooves had stronger colouration than birds of unknown status or fewer than two bill grooves. Males had overall duller colouration than females, especially in the foot.