The Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis)

Great Auk. 6k

Description:

Black head, neck, back and wings. Undersides white with a white oval between the beak and each eye. Large powerful bill. 30" tall. Walked upright. Flightless but extremely strong and fast swimmers. Link to another image.

Range:

Once widely distributed in the northern Atlantic. Pelagic in winter off the eastern North America coast. The auks would congregated so reliably on the Grand Banks in such large numbers that Basque, French, Spanish and British fisherman used them as navigation aids.

Habitat:

Marine species coming to shore only to breed. Found in coastal waters, rocky platforms of islands.

Diet:

Crustaceans and fish possibly procured at depths greater than 100 meters.

Breeding:

Courtship probably involved head shaking and showing opened yellow mouth. Bred in large colonies. Nested on off-shore islands with a single egg laid on bare or guano covered rock. Egg was dirty-white / yellowish buff, marked with brown and black. 4.9". Young may have left nest shelf for sea in about 9 days.

Behavior:

The original penguin (Southern hemisphere penguins are in a different family) was swift and graceful underwater. Populations migrated from breeding grounds to Southern Greenland and North American coast.

Comments:

Hunted since the 10th century, on land the great auks were an easy target. Breeding colonies were heavily exploited for meat, feathers, eggs and young. One fishing boat captain using a colony to provision his boat, took 100,000 eggs in one day. The young were used as bait. After the collapse of eider duck populations due to habitat destruction and down harvesting, feather merchants turned to the great auk colonies. The last known breeding pair were killed on a small island off of Iceland in June of 1844. Another bird was sighted off of Newfoundland in 1852. The American Ornithological Union named their scientific journal The Auk in honor of the great auk.

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