Little Auk Alle Alle

The little auk is also known as dovekie (American), alkekonge (Norwegian), and lyurik (Russian). It is a small, short-necked auk with a weight of about 160 g and a wingspan of 32 cm. The black and white coloration lacks any decoration.

The little auk is the only true Arctic auk species endemic to the Arctic Basin. The breeding range stretches through the archipelagos chain from Baffin Island to Severnaya Zemlya and it has recently been reported to nest in north Bering Sea. Some birds winter within the breeding range in ice-filled waters and polynyas; most shift southwards with the majority off the Grand Bank and Nova Scotia.

Little auk (Alle alle) at a breeding colony near Savissivik, northwest Greenland.

Copyright Bryan and Cherry Alexander Photography

Little auk (Alle alle) at a breeding colony near Savissivik, northwest Greenland.

Copyright Bryan and Cherry Alexander Photography

Little auks are highly gregarious. Thousands of birds are seen flying around occupied slopes, and up to three nests can be found on two square meters under the stones. Large flocks form at sea when prey is abundant.

The birds lay a single large egg in open spaces underneath stones or in rock crevices. Incubation lasts for a month, and the chick stays in the nest almost a month longer. In spite of nesting in shelter, eggs, chicks, and adults can be preyed by larger gulls, Arctic foxes, and polar bears.

The parents bring food to their chicks in the throat pouch 5-15 times a day from a distance of 10-100 km. Each meal consists of hundreds of small shrimplike crustaceans. The little auk is the only plankton-eating auk in the Atlantic, but, outside breeding, young fishes are also consumed in largenumbers. Little auks readily exploit specific sympagic fauna developing underneath old pack ice-floes.

A rough estimate of the world population gives 15 million pairs, hence, these small birds play an important role in High Arctic ecosystems. For instance, in Spitsbergen they bring ashore up to 1000 t of zooplankton during the chick-rearing period.

Little auks are most vulnerable to oil spills, while fishery and bycatch do not represent major threats. Little auks wintering off southwestern Greenland are important food resources for local Greenlanders.

The population trend appears to be stable all over the range except for the small populations in Iceland and southern Greenland, which have declined during the past century. Climatic changes, resulting in warmer waters around these southernmost settlements, are thought to affect dramatically one of the most Arctic bird species.

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