|Common Nicknames||Puff Bird, Puffy Slider, Auker|
|Habitat||Coastlines of The North Belt, select nesting grounds elsewhere|
The Puffugl is a strange bird, with many stark bright and neutral colors to its body, and a division into three subspecies based on physical size and beak shape. The birds have been known to inhabitants of the north for generations, serving as a food source to the few who brave getting a sharp swarm of pecks from the flock, or to the even more foolish a source of monetary gain, because of the bird’s nests, consisting of a collection of stones and materials which can be quite valuable. Puffugl have also been domesticated by one Race alone, the Dredger Dwarves, but these numbers are minor and are only members of one of the subspecies. The birds are likely to continue surviving in the north for many years to come, thriving in the waters as well as along the coastlines.
Puffugls have been an inhabitant of the northern waters of Aloria for centuries and were first observed by the Drovv, followed soon after by the Allorn Empire. The strange-looking bird, along with its odd habits, diversity of subspecies, and lack of familiarity with the Altalar, rapidly attracted attention among these explorers given their friendliness. However, eventually, the Altalar turned to sample the food potential of the flocks, driving the birds away from their ship and ending contact. For centuries after this, only the occasional Allorn ship would reach up that far north, and they often spotted Puffugl in the region, hunting them as needed. But, it was truly the Velheim Ailor that next encountered the bird and in large numbers. Their vessels, exploring and leading settlement of the northern lands in the twilight of the Allorn Empire, came to greatly enjoy the birds as they came abroad, swam along with the ships, and in general, interact with the vessels just as the Common Gull might. However, unlike the Common Gull, the Puffugl were unfamiliar with Ailor, and became easy prey for hungry sailors. This practice was rare though, since while Puffugl could be taken unaware, they were not stupid, and many soon learned to keep their distance. Additionally, their great colonies were often hostile to boats approaching them, and many Ailor were wisened to the sharp peck of the Puffugl’s beak.
Throughout this time, regions like Ellador had temperate, cold, and even humid regions, and were lush with foliage. Among the dense forests and deep mountains of the continent were the Dwarves, and they were soon to change everything in the north. When they fought with the Isldar in the Dragon Wars, they triggered a calamitous response from these Dragon Worshiping Nelfin, when a blast of supernatural cold rapidly covered Ellador, Jorrhildr and Cain. Within days, thousands of Puffugl died along with countless other forms of life, and the bird’s populations most used to cold waters, winds, and snow expanded, coming to reoccupy the old nesting grounds of those subgroups rendered extinct a decade or so previous. The dozen or so subspecies of Puffugl that once existed were now reduced to three. In this hostile time, they were actively hunted by the desperate Ailor seeking food, which further confirmed and reinforced their current mentality of seeking to avoid contact with Human and Nelfin Races. For generations, the Puffugl remained isolated to the north, but then there came the exodus of the Dwarves, and the birth of the Dredgers. Their colossal ships, when they first set out onto the waves, had the “misfortune” as many of the Dwarves would grumble, to be beset by the lesser species of the Puffugl, the Litt-Puffugl. Today many still grumble about them, but some among the Dredgers have domesticated a small number of the creatures. As for the other two subspecies, they remain fully wild, living in the cold waters and along the cold cliffs of The North Belt alongside wild varieties of the Litt-Puffugl.
Puffugl are broken up into three subspecies, but each shares a set of different characteristics. The bird ranges from between one and four feet in height, and with varying weights according to their size. Their heads possess a distinct orange-colored beak, with strips of black and yellow patterned along its length. This pattern reaches back to the feathers around their small black eyes, set on either side of their face with a slight forward bend, and fades into their black and white feather scheme. The rest of their heads are smooth and attached to their bodies through a short neck. Their bodies are strange for that of a bird, heavily puffed forward similar to that of a Duck, but also held more upright when walking, resulting in an almost humanoid posture. Their wings, which have a varying span according to their subspecies, emerge from either side of their bodies and often sit neatly tucked, being capable of giving them flight and great maneuverability in the water. Their bodies stand on two large, orange-skinned semi-webbed feet with three toes, easily capable of propelling them through the water, but also capable of walking on land for short to medium periods. Their bodies end on a cluster of short tail feathers. Their body coloration, while slightly varying between the different subspecies, is that of a stark black and white. The black heavily covers their backs and heads, while the white covers their faces and underbellies. The shades of orange and yellow from their beaks easily stick out in this color scheme, as do their aforementioned orange feet. During the winter though, the bright colors of their face molt off, though this returns in the spring.
Puffugl lack diversity between the sexes, males and females looking much alike with the only more notable difference being the comparatively larger size of the males. This is most prominent in the Stor-Puffugl, as “Fat Kings” are Stor-Puffugl who grow obese from possessing two female mates and consuming well over what normal Puffugl gains while nesting on their eggs.
- Litt-Puffugl: The smallest species of Puffugl, these creatures also have the largest beaks and enjoy the most southern spread of the species. They are also the species inclined toward the Dredger Dwarves, finding the heat and crannies of their vessels comforting, even if they may cause blockages or issues over time as the bird gathers Coal and other materials into their nest. Some have been domesticated through decades of nesting in and around these great hulking vessels, and make simple, but practical, seaborn pets for the sea-focused subrace of Dwarves.
- Van-Puffugl: Sitting in the middle ranges of the sizes for Puffugl species and also known as the Yellow Puffugl, Van-Puffugls are the sole subspecies to feature an additional facial feature. They have a pair of prominent lines of yellow feathers that sit erect on their face, with the tips reaching out beyond the edge of their face and sitting in the air on either side of their head. They also possess a more pointed, narrow beak.
- Stor-Puffugl: The largest subspecies, Stor-Puffugl is also the one with the most issues flying. By the time they reach the end of their lives, they are often fat, their puffed forms even more so than usual, and they either lay around for hours or waddle and slide everywhere they wish to go, unable to take to the air as they might in their youth. Their beaks are also distinct, with a streak of black along the top, and a narrow, downward curve to it.
Life Span and Development
All Puffugl share a similar life cycle, being born in clutches of between one and four small white, ovular eggs. Instead of being incubated by the mother alone though, males often trade-off if not entirely care for the eggs, and once they have hatched, the Pufflets as well. When baby Puffugl emerges, they are covered in dense grey feathers and, based on the subspecies, will either remain within the nest for the next several weeks or leave the nest immediately, entering the water in pursuit of the moon. Over several weeks, regardless of this choice, they rapidly mature and lose their feathery gown in favor of their first, adolescent coat. By the age of two months, they have physically matured to the size of an adult and must leave their nest and parents to join the wider flock. It takes them a further two months to be suitable for mating, which many Puffugl do for life. However, they often wait a few years before doing so. Generally, the birds live for anywhere between ten to twenty years, though those domesticated by the Dredgers have been known to live as old as fifty.
The Puffugl have markedly different mentalities based on subspecies. The smallest species, the Litt-Puffugl, is generally non-aggressive, and the most flighty of the different groups. They have the unique feature of, upon being hatched in the evening, flying out into the sea, following the light of the moon. They are joined by their parents in this endeavor, who remain with them over the period it takes the offspring to fledge and gain enough feathers to fly up and return to the colony. Litt-Puffugls are also the most aquatic of the subspecies, spending upwards of years out in the water, away from the land, before returning to their home colony for a mating season. Van-Puffugls, on the other hand, spend a considerable time at sea as well, though remain in their nest after being born. They are primarily cared for by the male who watches over the Pufflets while the female is away collecting food. After the babies have developed their adolescent feather coat, the male and female will begin to change off in this role, their offspring either following after them to learn how to dive and swim or stay in the nest. Eventually, they will be kicked out by the parents, and join the wider flock in their voyages through the water. Similar to the Litt-Puffugl, the Van-Puffugl stays away from their colonies for long periods, but normally only a handful of months to one or two years.
Stor-Puffugls meanwhile, have perhaps the most different mentality. They are the most aggressive subspecies, actively chasing and biting at Humans who get too close to them, the colony, or any Pufflets. They often only lay a single egg, with the male staying with the pufflet for weeks, while the mother leaves to gather up an enormous store of food. When she returns, she feeds both the father and the child, before leaving and making more frequent trips home. During this time, the large male bird will stand upright, sometimes even in blizzard conditions, staring in a single direction. Known as the lonely sentinels by fisherpeople and hunters, some remain like that for weeks, their mate dead, and them unwilling to leave their Pufflet alone to seek her out. The Pufflet then dies, and the male often returns to the sea, is said to never return. They are also the only Puffugl who are known to sometimes have difficulty in flight, and engage in the “slide and fly” to get airborne, slipping down ice formations toward the water or a dropoff point using their bellies, and then taking off into the air.
There are common mentalities that all Puffugl share. For one, they are all accepting of one another, their colonies able to become multi-layered, combined groups of all three subspecies existing together. The animals are also known collectors of stones and minerals. Be they pebbles, small rocks, specks of gemstones, or even Coal rocks, Puffugl’s collect them, seeking to ring their nests with these materials. These nests are also a mechanism for attracting mates, as males will approach a female’s nest with, particularly “impressive” specimens to be allowed within the said nest, essentially sealing the deal. Finally, all Puffugl eat the fruit of the sea. From crustaceans to cephalopods to the many species of fish that swim through northern waters, each Puffugl subspecies has its favorites, or creatures their beaks have adapted to best pursue.
Territory and Groupings
Puffugl exists in groups known as colonies, with flocks referring to those members of the species who depart from the colony for months to years at a time. Colonies of Puffugl are dotted across the many coasts of the entire North Belt region, with some even being reported on the icy cliffs of the Northern Expanse. Litt-Puffugl tends to form small tunnels and more hidden nests, dug into the cold earth or cliffsides, while both Van- and Stor-Puffugl build their nests on generally flat, open surfaces, using a ring of rocks to designate their particular location. As mentioned earlier, colonies tend to be built together, while numbers for such groupings can reach many thousands. It is difficult to calculate the exact numbers of any one colony since so many Puffugl are constantly coming and going. Litt-Pufugl colonies aboard Dredger ships though, tend to be fairly small, numbering only a hundred or fewer members, finding a dark, forgotten corner to build their nest, stealing coal, gemstones, and more in the process. As for in domesticated surroundings, those few Litt-Puffugl domesticated by the Dredger Dwarves generally live with what others of their kind are aboard a ship in the Puff-cage, a small structure built near the top of the vessel to let the birds leave when desired, but also to give them a single location to return to.
- Puffugl remains a delicacy of certain Velheim-majority regions to this day, though a candy treat among such regions known as Puff Eggs has gained more popularity in recent years as well.
- Puffugl numbers on the coastline of Drowda are notably high, as the birds are kept safe from most of the region’s hostile, mutated predators given their dense clusters in difficult to reach areas.