Atlantic Puffin #20-0039

January 19, 2020
Rescue Location
Hatteras Island, North Carolina
Former Patient
Patient photo

Last Updated

On Sunday, January 19, an Atlantic Puffin was admitted to the Wildlife Center – a very unusual species for the Center. Sadly, the bird had several health issues and died overnight. This was still a notable patient and interesting learning opportunity for the staff and students at the Center.

The young puffin was found on January 3 in a wooded area on Hatteras Island, North Carolina and was taken to a permitted wildlife rehabilitator. The puffin was underweight and the rehabilitator found a laceration on the side of the bird’s head. The webbing on both of its feet was also significantly split, though already healing. The rehabilitator reached out to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to discuss the bird’s case, and to brainstorm on the potential for transferring to a rehabilitation facility with more puffin experience. Several waterbird experts from both the East and West Coasts discussed the prognosis of the bird, based on natural history and current medical issues. Those involved were particularly concerned about the split webbing on the bird’s feet, which could have affected hunting, swimming, diving, and climbing. For immediate treatment and assessment, the bird was transferred to the Wildlife Center.

Atlantic Puffins live and nest in the North Atlantic, and can be found in Canada and Maine during the breeding season. Outside of breeding season, the birds typically remain far from the shore, and may even stay out in the mid-ocean. These birds forage while swimming underwater and eat a variety of fish and crustaceans.

Dr. Claire, the Center’s veterinary intern, found that the puffin’s head wound was healing well, though the bird was still underweight. She also noted some clicking sounds when listening to the bird’s lungs; radiographs suggested that the bird’s lung fields did appear to be compromised. This species is at high risk for aspergillosis, a fungal infection that causes respiratory disease. Wildlife rehabilitation intern Kylee tested the puffin’s waterproofing and found that within a couple of minutes, the bird’s feathers became wet and soaked through. Kylee tease-fed the puffin, and noted that the bird was fairly uncoordinated when attempting to eat the fish.

Unfortunately, it’s likely that the thin body condition and suspected aspergillosis infection had severely compromised the bird, and the puffin died overnight.