The End of the Great Auk

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

Comments

Gene Huston on September 14, 2020 at 2:59 AM wrote:
I think the information should say off the coast of Iceland not Ireland. There is a great auk statue in Iceland to mark the great auks’ extinction.
Spurwing Plover on January 24, 2022 at 6:40 AM wrote:
The Great Auk gone but not Forgoten
Jose Alejandro Vazquez Jr on May 30, 2024 at 7:38 AM wrote:
Spoonbill was sad and feel bad for the great auk
Jose Alejandro Vazquez Jr on May 30, 2024 at 7:40 AM wrote:
Spoonbill was sad and I wish so we can bring it back

Leave a comment

Comments with links or HTML will be deleted. Your comment will be published pending approval.
Your email address will not be published
You can unsubscribe from these communications at any time. For more information on how to unsubscribe, our privacy practices, and how we are committed to protecting and respecting your privacy, please review our Privacy Policy. By clicking submit below, you consent to allow Birdorable to store and process the personal information submitted above to provide you the content requested.

Wilson's Phalarope: From North American Breeder to South American Winterer

Today Birdorable welcomes another bird named after the ornithologist Alexander Wilson to Birdorable, following Wilson's Warbler and Wilson's Plover. Today Wilson's Phalarope joins our flock!Wilson's Phalaropes are the largest of all three of the world's phalarope species (the...

2019 Bonanza Bird #4: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Today's new Birdorable bird joins our duck family! We are introducing the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck! Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks nest in tree cavities and will use nest boxes. They can often be found perching in trees. In fact, they used to be known...

2017 Bonanza Bird #8: South Island Takahē

Take a look at this beauty! Today a colorful New Zealand rail joins Birdorable! Introducing our South Island Takahe! The South Island Takahē is a large flightless species of rail that was once thought to be extinct. A similar species, the...

Spotlight on the Elegant Trogon: Nature's Colorful Masterpiece

Today we are concluding our 2022 Birdorable Bonanza by adding a colorful bird of the New World: the Elegant Trogon! Elegant Trogons are native to a wide range across Mexico and Central America, where they reside in a variety...