Birdorable Great Auk

On this date* in 1844, off the coast of Ireland, a pair of Great Auks were killed. These proved to be the last specimens of Great Auk ever collected.

The Great Auk was a flightless species. It stood up to 33 inches tall and weighed about 11 pounds. The Great Auk's scientific name, Pinguinus impennis, roughly translates to plump and flightless. The auk's black and white plumage was similar to that of penguins; penguins are so named after the auk's scientific name due to this similarity. Despite the physical similarities, the species (auks and penguins) are not closely related genetically.

Great Auks lived in the North Atlantic Ocean coasts, coming to land only for breeding. They nested colonially in areas close to favorable feeding grounds and away from predators like polar bears and White-tailed Eagles.

Although somewhat clumsy on land, Great Auks were agile in the water, able to propel itself underwater using its wings. It was also able to dive deeper and hold its breath longer than other alcid bird species.

Great Auks were once abundant. They were hunted as food by the Neanderthals more than 100,000 years ago. There are records of Great Auks being hunted more than 20,000 years ago in Spain, Italy, and France. While the Little Ice Age between the 16th and 19th centuries may have contributed somewhat to population losses for the Great Auk, it was massive human exploitation that ultimately doomed this species. Great Auks were hunted for their down and collected for their eggs, feathers, and skins.

Great Auk
Great Auks by John James Audubon

Today there are 78 specimen Great Auks (skins) in museums and other collections. A Great Auk specimen sold to the Icelandic Museum of Natural History for £9000 in 1971; this was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive bird specimen ever bought and sold.

 

* Published sources are conflicted on the date; June 3 is also sometimes cited.

Cute Great Auk Gifts

Cute Birdorable Tufted Puffin

Today's new bird is a seabird of the Pacific Ocean: the Tufted Puffin!

The Tufted Puffin is also known as the Crested Puffin. Both males and females develop yellow tufts of feathers on the sides of the head during breeding season.

Adult Tufted Puffins spend most of their life at sea. During breeding season, they congregate along rocky cliff edges on northern Pacific islands, where they nest in rock crevices or inside burrows that can be over five feet deep.

Tufted Puffin swimming
Tufted Puffin by NOAA Photo Library (CC BY 2.0)
Tufted Puffins on a Rock
Tufted Puffins by Isaac Sanchez (CC BY 2.0)

Tomorrow we'll reveal our last Bonanza bird for 2018. It's a South American parrot named for the scalloped feathers on its head. Do you know the species?

Today a seabird with bold colors joins Birdorable: the Horned Puffin!

The Horned Puffin is a seabird in the auk family. They are pelagic, breeding on rocky islands but spending the rest of the year at sea. They are found in ocean waters around Alaska, British Columbia, and Siberia.

Horned Puffins are named for a small pointed fleshy "horn" that adults have over each eye. Their striking beaks actually increase in size and color intensity during courtship and breeding, developing vertical grooves.

Like many seabirds, Horned Puffins have a mostly black and white plumage. They are black above and white below. This is a camouflage strategy, helping to protect them from predators both from the air above them and the sea below.

Tomorrow an endangered bird found only in Peru will be revealed as part of our 2017 Birdorable Bonanza. It was once thought to be extinct but was rediscovered in the late 1970s. Do you know this bird?

Razorbills out of range

Florida birders have been treated to a rare sight this winter. Hundreds of Razorbills have been seen off both coasts of the state; the birds have been seen as far west as Pensacola along the Gulf of Mexico! The normal winter range for the Razorbill, which is a type of auk, extends down to the coast of North Carolina.

Razorbills breed along rocky habitat on coastal northeastern North America.

blog Razorbill

The big question is: why have the Razorbills moved so far out of their normal range? Several reasons have been speculated. Superstorm Sandy may have affected the usual food supply of Razorbills. Access to food, abundance of certain types of fish, and even water visibility may all play a factor. Razorbills may have had a banner breeding year, which means there are more young Razorbills competing for food and space. These factors and others may all have driven Razorbills further south than they normally venture, or other things not yet considered may play a part in this season's unprecedented Razorbill invasion. If you love Razorbills, you'll love our updated Birdorable Razorbill cartoon. Find swimming or flying Razorbill merchandise here: customizable Razorbill gifts.

Crested Auklets are small seabirds that live in the Bering Sea. They are in the same family as other cute birds like Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, and the extinct Great Auk. During the breeding season, which begins in mid-May, Crested Auklets of both sexes are in their beautiful and striking breeding plumage. This includes an unusual crest of bristles at the forehead, white eyeline contrasting with black body plumage, and a bright orange bill. Perhaps the most unusual component of the Crested Auklet's finery includes a strong but not-unpleasant odor, which is said to smell like tangerines, or another citrus-like odor. The function of this odor is not known to science, but it may have something to do with attracting a mate. While we don't currently offer scratch-and-sniff gifts, our selection of Crested Auklet apparel and novelties are great for anyone who loves these unusual, striking and fresh-scented birds!

This week's feature t-shirt design is our Atlantic Puffin with a bill full of sardines ... how cute! This is great for anyone that loves these unique, beautiful and animated seabirds. See our other cute puffin gifts as well.

Birdorable Atlantic Puffin

Earlier this month the American Ornithologists' Union had their annual meeting in Philadelphia. During the event, the 4th annual student quiz bowl took place, and Birdorable was proud to donate three of our Great Auk tote bags to be used as prizes. The Great Auk is part of the logo of the AOU and their quarterly journal is The Auk. According to AOU Student Affairs Committee member Nicholas Block, "The quiz bowl went really well overall! We had hundreds of people in attendance, and a great time was had by all. The team of students from Auburn University, named A Flock of Steven Seagals, won the title." Here are two of the winning team members showing off their Birdorable Great Auk totes.

Birdorable Great Auk tote bags

Thanks for the update, Nick! It sounds like the quiz bowl was a lot of fun!

All You Need is Razorbills

Razorbills typically live for 13 years, but one particular Razorbill that was ringed in 1967 was still spotted in the United Kingdom last year, over 41 years later! The same bird has been returning to the same cliff since hippies were wearing flowers in their hair and the Beatles were singing "All You Need Is Love". The old Razorbill was reported by the British Trust for Ornithology last year, along with 11 other record-breaking long-living birds, including a 31-year-old Curlew and a Black-headed Gull that has been flying around parks in Central London for 27 years.

Razorbill
Razorbill on the Farne Islands, UK, by ankehuber

The Razorbill is a beautiful striking bird. It is the 159th Birdorable bird and the answer to this week's spot the Birdorable. Unfortunately we have never seen a Razorbill. Have you?

A Fragrance of Murres

Birdorable Common Guillemot

We've added another cutie to Birdorable, the Common Murre, also known as the Common Guillemot. These sea birds can be found in low-Arctic waters in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans, all over the northern hemisphere. They spend most of their lives out at sea and only come to land to breed on rocky cliffs or islands, where they get together in huge groups, which are called a 'bazaar', or a 'fragrance' of murres. Check out this incredible photo of thousands of murres at Point Reyes National Seashore, approximately 30 miles north of San Francisco.

Guillemot 1
Common Guillemot

From their nest site they fly as far as 125 miles to look for food for their chicks. They are excellent divers. Using their wings for propulsion they can dive as deep as 600 feet to forage for food. Check out this neat video of Guillemots diving underwater at Farne Islands, off the coast of Northumberland in England.


Video of diving guillemots at the Farne Islands

The Birdorable Murre is available on t-shirts and other apparel in two different designs: