The outsized, parti-colored bills of adult Atlantic puffins are so distinctive that they make it almost impossible to misidentify the birds. Even in winter, when the bills are duller, the size and the color is obvious.
Young birds have smaller bills and can be confused with other alcids, but note the grayish-white face patch. Away from breeding colonies, puffins are hard to see. They spend the winter in small groups scattered across the northern Atlantic Ocean and are very rarely spotted from shore.
Even offshore boat trips usually fail to turn any up and most people see their first Atlantic puffin on one of the organized visits to a breeding colony. Large colonies are loud, busy places, with as many as three burrows per square meter and with birds coming and going constantly the sky can be filled with the whir of their short wings.
The squawking and grunting noises may not sound much like a bird song to most of us, but puffins seem to have no trouble translating the cacophony.