Waldo, the White Puffin
White Puffin, Newfoundland
In 2013 I caught a glimpse of a white puffin in the corner of my eye. I could not believe my eyes at first, but when I Googled it later, I found that white puffins are very rare, but have been seen throughout their range.
Unfortunately, I was not able to take a photo at this time because everything happened too fast. The same summer I spotted a mostly white murre and got a few blurry pictures. We have kept our eyes open for those birds ever since, with no luck in 2014 and 2015.
Then in 2016 not only did I spot the white puffin and showed it to all of our passengers before it disappeared, I also snapped a few photos.
We found this rare bird two more times during this summer, always on the water near Great Island. Interestingly, it was in the same area where I caught my first glimpse in 2013. Quite likely the same bird?
Because we would spend part of the cruise now scanning all the puffins on the water in this area, trying to find the one white specimen among the thousands of mostly black ones, we named the bird Waldo.
Our photos are blurry, but what we can tell from them is that this bird appears to be immature (younger than 5 years), as she does not have many grooves in the orange part of the bill. We don’t know the sex of the bird, as Atlantic Puffins are sexually monomorphic (both sexes look the same), so “Waldo” could very well be a boy or a girl.
It is also unclear what kind of mutation causes the pale appearance of this individual – more detailed photos are necessary. We are confident that the bird is neither “albinistic” nor “leucistic”, but there are several other known mutations that can cause pale appearance. To the best of our knowledge, Waldo is the only white puffin that has been photographed in Newfoundland so far, but there have been a few sightings in other areas of the world.
An interesting difference in behaviour we noticed is that Waldo always seems to be taking off last of a group of puffins. Melanin, which is responsible for dark feathers, does not only colour the feathers, but also makes them more resistant to tear and wear. Possibly Waldo’s feathers are weaker than dark puffin feathers and make flight harder for him than for normal puffins and this his why Waldo might try to preserve feathers and energy by a lower threshold for escape in flight when feeling threatened.
Waldo always seemed to be a bit on the outside of a group of puffins sitting on the water, normal puffins might avoid her for her strange appearance which makes her more detectable on the dark water surface than a “normal” puffin. We have our fingers crossed that Waldo will find a loving mate regardless once mature enough to start a family. And maybe Waldo will give his special looks to some of his offspring.
Molly Bawn Whale & Puffin Tours is an important part of the Puffin Patrol.
The Molly Bawn puffin & whale boat tour is just 40 mins from St. John’s. Every tour is a great time to see puffins up close – and maybe even see Waldo!