MABERLY IS a tiny coastal hamlet on Newfoundland’s Bonavista Peninsula with a permanent year-round population of 20 people and 2,500 puffins — and wide open spaces, ocean vistas and fish-filled waters to satisfy both man and bird.

Between May and September, the tuxedo-garbed auk with the colourful beak occupies a hump of land at the end of a rocky outcrop known to locals as “the puffin site,” one of the most accessible places on the island to see the provincial bird. At the end of a short drive, you’ll find a wooden hut, where a couple of teenaged interpreters shiver in the ocean breeze. From there, it’s a five-minute walk across lumpy grass that seems to lead into the water. But stick to the narrow path, wellworn by tens of thousands of tourists, and follow what sounds like a muffled chainsaw. Puffins don’t squawk like most seabirds — they growl.

Puffins are not graceful birds. They flap their wings at 400 beats per minute just to stay airborne and usually make crash landings, taking out any birds in their way. But the puffin is a noble animal. So said Liberal MP Michael Ignatieff in August 2007, when he championed it as the symbol of his embattled party: “They flap their wings very hard and they work like hell.”

If a five-minute walk isn’t a hard enough workout for you, take a two-hour hike to Puffin Island, just west of Maberly, in the company of local biologist Jonathan Joy. He leads guided tours three times a day between June and September and says early mornings and late evenings are the best times to see the inquisitive creatures.

But if you prefer puffin viewing from afar (a wise bet, if only to avoid the cruel fate of then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion in the infamous Conservative “puffin poop” video of the last federal election), check out Joy’s Natural Wonders, a one-room natural history museum in neighbouring Elliston, where his “puffin cam” lets you see puffins in the wild without getting too close. The birds have been known to peck at the camera, stand on it and smack their bills together — a high five of sorts, says Joy. “It’s a comedy show, sometimes.”

For information about the Maberly puffin site, visit www.rootcellars.com. For Joy’s Natural Wonders and nature hikes, visit www.puffins.ca.