Horned Puffin – Accepted

1. 13 May 1973


s Santa Cruz I. SBA



ph., cover AB 27(4)

2. 26 Sep–23 Oct 1974


Southeast Farallon I. SF











Figure 183. In California’s inshore waters, most Horned Puffin records come in spring. This basic-plumaged adult, however, was photographed on 9 September 2000 off Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County (Ron Saldino).







Horned Puffin

HORNED PUFFIN Fratercula corniculata (Naumann, 1821)

Accepted: 2 (100%)

Treated in Appendix H: no

Not accepted: 0

CBRC review: 1973 and 1974 records1

Not submitted/reviewed: NA

Color image: none

This seabird breeds along the Pacific coast from northern British Columbia to northwestern Alaska, across the Bering and Chukchi Seas, among the Aleutian Islands, and from northeastern Siberia south to the northern Kuril Islands. Some winter in the southern Bering Sea but most move into a broad area that extends from the edge of Alaska’s continental shelf and waters around the Aleutian Islands south to around 35°N in the central North Pacific (Piatt and Kitaysky 2002). At least during some years, smaller numbers move farther west to waters off central Japan, south to waters off the northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and east to inshore waters as far south as southern California. Non-breeders apparently oversummer in considerable numbers in the Central Pacific (Piatt and Kitaysky 2002) and in small numbers south along the coast to Oregon. The species is accidental in the northern Northwest Territories. An undocumented sight report from northwestern Baja California was considered hypothetical by Howell et al. (2001).

California’s first Horned Puffin was a female secured by collector Henry Marsden on 17 February 1914 in Pacific Grove, Monterey County (Bishop 1914, 1915; FMNH 137389). The recovery of many more carcasses, and a few debilitated birds, over the ensuing decades led Grinnell (1938) to speculate that these birds had likely died or grown sick in Alaskan waters and then drifted to California on prevailing currents, a hypothesis disputed by Hoffman et al. (1975). The state’s first record of a seemingly fit bird did not come until 6 June 1967 on Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz County (AFN 21:206).

In a summary of records from the eastern Pacific Ocean, Pitman and Graybill (1985) reported 54 Horned Puffins about 100–140 nautical miles off San Francisco on 17 February 1984 and suggested that the species may be a regular, and at times common, non-breeding visitor to deep-water areas well off the coast of central or southern California. Briggs et al. (1987) generally concurred with this assessment and reported “low numbers of Horned Puffins from January through May off central California, and January through August north of Point Arena.”

During certain years, Horned Puffins move into nearshore waters during spring to exploit upwelling conditions before undertaking northward migration (Pitman and Graybill 1985). One very rarely sees a healthy Horned Puffin and the California coast in the same view except during these unusual events. Between April and June in both 1975 and 1976, the species was reported to be “surprisingly abundant near San Miguel Island (the coolest waters off southern California), where local numbers were on the order of several thousand birds” (Briggs et al. 1987).

1On the review list 1972–1976