Great Auk Pinguinus Impennis

Only 5-10 pairs of little auk breed in Iceland today; ironically, they nest on Eldley Island, where the last pair of great auks was killed in June 1844. There are some 80 skins and 20 skeletons, about 75 eggs housed in collections around the world, and much of what we know about this species is recent reconstruction or mere speculation, with clues supplied by extant auks and penguins.

The great auk was the largest representative of the family, weighing 4.5-7.3° kg. In appearance, they resembled their recent relatives—razorbills. The great auk went further than other auks en route underwater exploration, and so lost their flying ability, becoming the closest analogs of penguins. The great auks gave southern flightless birds their name.

During the last century before extinction, the great auks bred in Atlantic boreal waters, and penetrated Arctic sites in Greenland following warm tongues of the Gulf Stream.

When at sea, the great auks kept to shallow offshore fishing banks, and preyed in near-bottom waters on fishes up to 150 g in size.

The scientific name of the great auks— Pinguinus—originates from Latin pinguis, and means "fatty." And the stout, defenseless birds paid in full for their superior culinary quality. Specialized harvesting expeditions were equipped to kill these birds for food, and their feathers were also widely used.

Maria Gavrilo

See also Guillemot; Puffins; Razorbill

Further Reading

Bateson, P.P.G., "Studies of less familiar birds: Little Auk."

British Birds, 54 (1961): 272-277 Belopolski, L.O., Ecology of Sea Colonial Birds of Barents Sea,

Israel Progr. Sci. Transl., 1961 Bradstreet, M.S.W., "Pelagic feeding ecology of dovekies, Alle alle, in Lancaster Sound and western Baffin Bay." Arctic, 35 (1982): 126-140 Cramp, S. (editor), The Birds of the Western Palearctic, Volume

IV, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985 Flint, V.E. & A.N. Golovkin (editors), Ptitsy SSSR. Chistikovye [Birds of the USSR, Alcids], Moscow: Nauka, 1990 (in Russian)

Fuller, E., The Great Auk, Private Pub., 1999 Kaftanovski, Yu.M. Chistikovye ptitsy Vostochnoy Atlantiki [Alcids of Eastern Atlantic], MOIP (Moscow Soc. Nature Explorers) New Series, Branch of Zoology, No. 28 (43), Moscow, 1951 (in Russian) Kozlova, E.V., Rzhankoobraznye: podotryad Chistikovye [Charadriiformes: Suborder Auks], Fauna SSSR, novaya seria [Fauna of the USSR, new series], Moscow-Leningrad: Akademia Nauk SSSR, Volume 65, 1957 (in Russian) Krasnov, Yu.V., G.G. Matishov, K.V. Galaktionov & T.N. Savinova, Kolonial'nye ptitsy Murmana [Murman's colonial seabirds], St Petersburg: Nauka, 1995 (in Russian) Nettleship, D.N. & T.R. Birkhead, The Atlantic Alcidae,

Orlando: Academic Press, 1985 Norderhaug, M., "The role of the little auk, Plautus alle (L.), in Arctic ecosystems." In Antarctic Ecology, Volume 1, edited by M.W. Holdgate, London: Academic Press, 1970, pp. 558-560

Stempniewicz, L., "Breeding biology of the little auk Plautus alle (L.) in the Hornsund region, Spitsbergen." Acta Ornithological, 18 (1981): 141-165 Stempniewicz, L., M. Skakuj & L. Iliszko, "The little auk Alle alle polaris of Franz Josef Land: a comparison with Svalbard Alle a. alle populations." Polar Research, 15 (1996): 1-10

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