Great Auk
Overview
The Great Auk, Pinguinus impennis, formerly of the genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 Alca
Razorbill
The Razorbill is colonial seabird that will only come to land in order to breed. It is the largest living member of the Auk family. This agile bird will choose only one partner for life and females will lay one egg per year. Razorbills will nest along coastal cliffs in enclosed or slightly exposed...

, was a large, flightless alcid that became extinct
Extinction
In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms , normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point...

 in the mid-19th century. It was the only modern species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 in the genus Pinguinus, a group of bird
Bird
Birds are feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic , egg-laying, vertebrate animals. Around 10,000 living species and 188 families makes them the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from...

s that formerly included one other species of flightless giant auk
Auk
An auk is a bird of the family Alcidae in the order Charadriiformes. Auks are superficially similar to penguins due to their black-and-white colours, their upright posture and some of their habits...

 from the Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 region. It bred on rocky, isolated islands with easy access to both the ocean and a plentiful food supply, a rarity in nature that provided only a few breeding sites for the auks.
Encyclopedia
The Great Auk, Pinguinus impennis, formerly of the genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 Alca
Razorbill
The Razorbill is colonial seabird that will only come to land in order to breed. It is the largest living member of the Auk family. This agile bird will choose only one partner for life and females will lay one egg per year. Razorbills will nest along coastal cliffs in enclosed or slightly exposed...

, was a large, flightless alcid that became extinct
Extinction
In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms , normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point...

 in the mid-19th century. It was the only modern species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 in the genus Pinguinus, a group of bird
Bird
Birds are feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic , egg-laying, vertebrate animals. Around 10,000 living species and 188 families makes them the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from...

s that formerly included one other species of flightless giant auk
Auk
An auk is a bird of the family Alcidae in the order Charadriiformes. Auks are superficially similar to penguins due to their black-and-white colours, their upright posture and some of their habits...

 from the Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 region. It bred on rocky, isolated islands with easy access to both the ocean and a plentiful food supply, a rarity in nature that provided only a few breeding sites for the auks. When not breeding, the auks spent their time foraging in the waters of the North Atlantic, ranging as far south as New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 and northern Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 through Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Ireland, and Great Britain.

The Great Auk was 75 to 85 cm (29.5 to 33.5 in) tall and weighed around 5 kilograms (11 lb), making it the largest member of the alcid family. It had a black back and a white belly. The black beak
Beak
The beak, bill or rostrum is an external anatomical structure of birds which is used for eating and for grooming, manipulating objects, killing prey, fighting, probing for food, courtship and feeding young...

 was heavy and hooked with grooves on its surface. During the breeding season, the Great Auk had a white patch over each eye. After the breeding season, the auk lost this patch, instead developing a white band stretching between the eyes. The wings were 15 centimetres (5.9 in) long, rendering the bird flightless. Instead, the auk was a powerful swimmer, a trait that it used in hunting. Its favorite prey were fish, including Atlantic Menhaden
Atlantic menhaden
The Atlantic menhaden is a silvery, highly compressed fish in the herring family, Clupeidae. A filter feeder, it lives on plankton caught in midwater. Adult fish can filter up to four gallons of water a minute; and they play an important role in clarifying ocean water...

 and Capelin
Capelin
The capelin or caplin, Mallotus villosus, is a small forage fish of the smelt family found in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. In summer, it grazes on dense swarms of plankton at the edge of the ice shelf. Larger capelin also eat a great deal of krill and other crustaceans...

, and crustaceans. Although agile in the water, it was clumsy on land. Its main predators were Orca
Orca
The killer whale , commonly referred to as the orca, and less commonly as the blackfish, is a toothed whale belonging to the oceanic dolphin family. Killer whales are found in all oceans, from the frigid Arctic and Antarctic regions to tropical seas...

s, White-tailed Eagle
White-tailed Eagle
The White-tailed Eagle , also known as the Sea Eagle, Erne , or White-tailed Sea-eagle, is a large bird of prey in the family Accipitridae which includes other raptors such as hawks, kites, and harriers...

s, Polar Bear
Polar Bear
The polar bear is a bear native largely within the Arctic Circle encompassing the Arctic Ocean, its surrounding seas and surrounding land masses. It is the world's largest land carnivore and also the largest bear, together with the omnivorous Kodiak Bear, which is approximately the same size...

s, and human
Human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

s. Great Auk pairs mated for life. They nested in extremely dense and social colonies, laying one egg on bare rock. The egg was white with variable brown streaking. Both parents incubated for about six weeks before their young hatched. The young auks left the nest site after two or three weeks and the parents continued to care for them.

Humans had hunted the Great Auk for more than 100,000 years. It was an important part of many Native American cultures which coexisted with the bird, both as a food source and as a symbolic item. Many Maritime Archaic
Maritime Archaic
The Maritime Archaic is a North American cultural complex of the Late Archaic along the coast of Newfoundland, the Canadian Martimes and northern New England. The Maritime Archaic began in approximately 7000 BC and lasted into the 18th century. The culture consisted of sea-mammal hunters in the...

 people were buried with Great Auk bones, and one was buried with a cloak made of over 200 auk skins. Early European explorers to the Americas used the auk as a convenient food source or as fishing bait, reducing its numbers. The bird's down was in high demand in Europe, a factor which largely eliminated the European populations by the mid-16th century. Scientists soon began to realize that the Great Auk was disappearing and it became the beneficiary of many early environmental laws, but this proved not to be enough. Its growing rarity increased interest from European museums and private collectors in obtaining skins and eggs of the bird. This trend eliminated the last known breeding attempt, and the last certain record, of the Great Auks on 3 July 1844 on Eldey
Eldey
Eldey is a small island about off the coast of the Reykjanes Peninsula, southwest Iceland. Located west-southwest of Reykjavík, the island of Eldey covers an area of about , and rises to a height of . Its sheer cliffs are home to large numbers of birds, including one of the largest Northern Gannet...

, Iceland, but there are unconfirmed later reports of roaming individuals being seen or caught. A record of a bird in 1852 is considered by some to be the last sighting of this species. The Great Auk is mentioned in a number of novels and the scientific journal of the American Ornithologists' Union
American Ornithologists' Union
The American Ornithologists' Union is an ornithological organization in the USA. Unlike the National Audubon Society, its members are primarily professional ornithologists rather than amateur birders...

 is named The Auk
The Auk
The Auk is a quarterly journal and the official publication of the American Ornithologists' Union, having been continuously published by that body since 1884. The journal contains articles relating scientific studies of the anatomy, behavior, and distribution of birds. The journal is named for the...

in honour of this bird.

Taxonomy

The Great Auk was one of the 4400 animal species originally described by Carolus Linnaeus
Carolus Linnaeus
Carl Linnaeus , also known after his ennoblement as , was a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature. He is known as the father of modern taxonomy, and is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology...

 in his 18th century work, Systema Naturae
Systema Naturae
The book was one of the major works of the Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician Carolus Linnaeus. The first edition was published in 1735...

, in which it was named Alca impennis. The species was not placed in its own genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

, Pinguinus, until 1791. The generic name is derived from the Spanish and Portuguese name for the species, and the specific name impennis is from Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 and refers to the lack of flight feather
Flight feather
Flight feathers are the long, stiff, asymmetrically shaped, but symmetrically paired feathers on the wings or tail of a bird; those on the wings are called remiges while those on the tail are called rectrices . Their primary function is to aid in the generation of both thrust and lift, thereby...

s or pennae. Some ornithologists still feel it is more appropriate to retain the species in the genus Alca, however.

Analysis of mtDNA sequences
DNA sequence
The sequence or primary structure of a nucleic acid is the composition of atoms that make up the nucleic acid and the chemical bonds that bond those atoms. Because nucleic acids, such as DNA and RNA, are unbranched polymers, this specification is equivalent to specifying the sequence of...

 has confirmed morphological
Morphology (biology)
In biology, morphology is a branch of bioscience dealing with the study of the form and structure of organisms and their specific structural features....

 and biogeographical
Biogeography
Biogeography is the study of the distribution of species , organisms, and ecosystems in space and through geological time. Organisms and biological communities vary in a highly regular fashion along geographic gradients of latitude, elevation, isolation and habitat area...

 studies regarding the Razorbill
Razorbill
The Razorbill is colonial seabird that will only come to land in order to breed. It is the largest living member of the Auk family. This agile bird will choose only one partner for life and females will lay one egg per year. Razorbills will nest along coastal cliffs in enclosed or slightly exposed...

 as the Great Auk's closest living relative. The Great Auk was also closely related to the Little Auk
Little Auk
The Little Auk, or Dovekie , is a small auk, the only member of the genus Alle. It breeds on islands in the high Arctic. There are two subspecies: A. a. alle breeds in Greenland, Iceland, Novaya Zemlya and Spitsbergen, and A. a...

 (Dovekie), which underwent a radically different evolution compared to Pinguinus. Due to its outward similarity to the Razorbill (apart from flightlessness and size), the Great Auk was often placed in the genus Alca, following Linnaeus. The name Alca is a Latin derivative of the Scandinavian word for Razorbills and their relatives.

The fossil record (especially Pinguinus alfrednewtoni) and molecular evidence show that the three genera, while closely related, diverged soon after their common ancestor, a bird probably similar to a stout Xantus's Murrelet
Xantus's Murrelet
Xantus's Murrelet is a small seabird found in the California Current system in the Pacific Ocean. This auk breeds on islands off California and Mexico...

, had spread to the coasts of the Atlantic. By that time the murres, or Atlantic guillemot
Guillemot
Guillemots is the common name for several species of seabird in the auk family . In British use, the term comprises two genera: Uria and Cepphus. In North America the Uria species are called "murres" and only the Cepphus species are called "guillemots"...

s, had apparently already split from the other Atlantic alcids. Razorbill-like birds were common in the Atlantic during the Pliocene
Pliocene
The Pliocene Epoch is the period in the geologic timescale that extends from 5.332 million to 2.588 million years before present. It is the second and youngest epoch of the Neogene Period in the Cenozoic Era. The Pliocene follows the Miocene Epoch and is followed by the Pleistocene Epoch...

, but the evolution of the Little Auk is sparsely documented. The molecular data are compatible with either view, but the weight of evidence suggests placing the Great Auk in a distinct genus. The Great Auk was not closely related to the other extinct genera of flightless alcids, Mancalla, Praemancalla, and Alcodes.

Pinguinus alfrednewtoni was a larger and also flightless member of the genus Pinguinus that lived during the Early Pliocene
Pliocene
The Pliocene Epoch is the period in the geologic timescale that extends from 5.332 million to 2.588 million years before present. It is the second and youngest epoch of the Neogene Period in the Cenozoic Era. The Pliocene follows the Miocene Epoch and is followed by the Pleistocene Epoch...

. Known from bones found in the Yorktown Formation
Yorktown Formation
The Yorktown Formation is a mapped bedrock unit in the Coastal Plain of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. It is overconsolidated and highly fossiliferous.-Description:...

 of the Lee Creek Mine in North Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...

, it is believed to have split along with the Great Auk from a common ancestor. Pinguinus alfrednewtoni lived in the western Atlantic while the Great Auk lived in the eastern Atlantic, but after the former died out after the Pliocene, the Great Auk replaced it.

The Basque
Basque language
Basque is the ancestral language of the Basque people, who inhabit the Basque Country, a region spanning an area in northeastern Spain and southwestern France. It is spoken by 25.7% of Basques in all territories...

 name for the Great Auk is arponaz, meaning "spearbill". Its early French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 name was apponatz. The Norse
Norsemen
Norsemen is used to refer to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language belonging to the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish and Danish in their earlier forms.The meaning of Norseman was "people...

 called the Great Auk geirfugl, which means "spearbird". This has led to an alternative common name for the bird, "garefowl" or "gairfowl". Spanish
Spanish people
The Spanish are citizens of the Kingdom of Spain. Within Spain, there are also a number of vigorous nationalisms and regionalisms, reflecting the country's complex history....

 and Portuguese
Portuguese people
The Portuguese are a nation and ethnic group native to the country of Portugal, in the west of the Iberian peninsula of south-west Europe. Their language is Portuguese, and Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion....

 sailors called the bird pingüinos. The Inuit
Inuit
The Inuit are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada , Denmark , Russia and the United States . Inuit means “the people” in the Inuktitut language...

 name for the Great Auk was isarukitsck, which meant "little wing". The Welsh people
Welsh people
The Welsh people are an ethnic group and nation associated with Wales and the Welsh language.John Davies argues that the origin of the "Welsh nation" can be traced to the late 4th and early 5th centuries, following the Roman departure from Britain, although Brythonic Celtic languages seem to have...

 called this species "pingwen" (actually spelled "pengwyn" - lit. white head). When European explorers discovered what are today known as penguin
Penguin
Penguins are a group of aquatic, flightless birds living almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere, especially in Antarctica. Highly adapted for life in the water, penguins have countershaded dark and white plumage, and their wings have become flippers...

s in the Southern Hemisphere, they noticed their similar appearance
Convergent evolution
Convergent evolution describes the acquisition of the same biological trait in unrelated lineages.The wing is a classic example of convergent evolution in action. Although their last common ancestor did not have wings, both birds and bats do, and are capable of powered flight. The wings are...

 to the Great Auk and named them after this bird, although they are not related.

Description

Standing about 75 to 85 cm (29.5 to 33.5 in) tall and weighing around 5 kilograms (11 lb), the flightless Great Auk was the largest of both its family and the order Charadriiformes
Charadriiformes
Charadriiformes is a diverse order of small to medium-large birds. It includes about 350 species and has members in all parts of the world. Most Charadriiformes live near water and eat invertebrates or other small animals; however, some are pelagic , some occupy deserts and a few are found in thick...

. The auks which lived further north averaged larger in size than the more southerly members of the species. Males and females were similar in plumage, although there is evidence for differences in size, particularly in the bill and femur length. The back was primarily a glossy black, while the stomach was white. The neck and legs were short, and the head and wings small. The auk appeared chubby due to a thick layer of fat necessary for warmth. During the breeding season, the Great Auk developed a wide white eye patch over the eye, which had a hazel or chestnut iris. After the breeding season the auk molted and lost this eye patch, which was replaced with a wide white band and a gray line of feathers which stretched from the eye to the ear. During the summer, the auk's chin and throat were blackish-brown, while the inside of the mouth was yellow. During the winter, this alcid molted and the throat became white. The bill
Beak
The beak, bill or rostrum is an external anatomical structure of birds which is used for eating and for grooming, manipulating objects, killing prey, fighting, probing for food, courtship and feeding young...

 was large at 11 centimetres (4.3 in) long and curved downwards at the top; the bill also had deep white grooves in both the upper and lower mandibles, up to seven on the upper mandible and twelve on the lower mandible in summer, though there were fewer in winter. The wing
Wing
A wing is an appendage with a surface that produces lift for flight or propulsion through the atmosphere, or through another gaseous or liquid fluid...

s were only 15 centimetres (5.9 in) in length and the longest wing feathers were only 10 centimetres (3.9 in) long. Its feet and short claws were black while the webbed skin between the toes was brownish black. The legs were far back on the bird's body, which gave it powerful swimming and diving abilities.

Hatchlings were gray and downy. Juvenile birds had less prominent grooves in their beaks and had mottled white and black necks, while the eye spot found in adults was not present; instead, a gray line ran through the eyes (which still had the white eye ring) to just below the ears.

The auk's calls included low croaking and a hoarse scream. A captive auk was observed making a gurgling noise when anxious. It is not known what its other vocalizations were like, but it is believed that they were similar to those of the Razorbill
Razorbill
The Razorbill is colonial seabird that will only come to land in order to breed. It is the largest living member of the Auk family. This agile bird will choose only one partner for life and females will lay one egg per year. Razorbills will nest along coastal cliffs in enclosed or slightly exposed...

, only louder and deeper.

Distribution and habitat

The Great Auk was found in the cold North Atlantic coastal waters along the coasts of Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, the northeastern United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, Norway
Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

, Greenland
Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

, Iceland
Iceland
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...

, Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

, France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, and northern Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

. The Great Auk left the North Atlantic waters for land only in order to breed, even roosting at sea when not breeding. The rookeries of the Great Auk were found from Baffin Bay
Baffin Bay
Baffin Bay , located between Baffin Island and the southwest coast of Greenland, is a marginal sea of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is connected to the Atlantic via Davis Strait and the Labrador Sea...

 down to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, across the far northern Atlantic, including Iceland, and in Norway and the British Isles
British Isles
The British Isles are a group of islands off the northwest coast of continental Europe that include the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and over six thousand smaller isles. There are two sovereign states located on the islands: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and...

 in Europe. The Great Auk's nesting colonies required rocky islands with sloping shorelines to provide the birds access to the seashore. This was an extremely limiting factor and it is believed that the Great Auk may never have had more than 20 breeding colonies. Additionally, the nesting sites needed to be close to rich feeding areas and be far enough from the mainland to discourage visitation by humans and Polar Bear
Polar Bear
The polar bear is a bear native largely within the Arctic Circle encompassing the Arctic Ocean, its surrounding seas and surrounding land masses. It is the world's largest land carnivore and also the largest bear, together with the omnivorous Kodiak Bear, which is approximately the same size...

s. Only seven breeding colonies are known: Papa Westray
Papa Westray
Papa Westray, also known as Papay, is one of the Orkney Islands in Scotland, with a population of 65 at the time of the 2001 Census, now increased to 70 people...

 in the Orkney Islands
Orkney Islands
Orkney also known as the Orkney Islands , is an archipelago in northern Scotland, situated north of the coast of Caithness...

, St. Kilda
St Kilda, Scotland
St Kilda is an isolated archipelago west-northwest of North Uist in the North Atlantic Ocean. It contains the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The largest island is Hirta, whose sea cliffs are the highest in the United Kingdom and three other islands , were also used for...

 Island off Scotland, the Faroe Islands
Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands are an island group situated between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, approximately halfway between Scotland and Iceland. The Faroe Islands are a self-governing territory within the Kingdom of Denmark, along with Denmark proper and Greenland...

 between Iceland and Ireland, Grimsey Island
Grímsey
Grímsey is a small island in the country of Iceland, off the north coast of the main island of Iceland and straddling the Arctic Circle. In January 2011 it had 86 inhabitants....

 and Eldey Island near Iceland, Funk Island
Funk Island
Funk Island is a small, barren, isolated, uninhabited island approximately northeast of Wesleyville, Newfoundland, Canada.-Geography:The island is roughly trapezoidal in shape, with a maximum length of 0.8 km and a maximum width of 0.3 km and is nearly flat, rising 14 m out of the North...

 near Newfoundland
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador is the easternmost province of Canada. Situated in the country's Atlantic region, it incorporates the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador with a combined area of . As of April 2011, the province's estimated population is 508,400...

, and the Bird Rocks
Magdalen Islands
The Magdalen Islands form a small archipelago in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence with a land area of . Though closer to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, the islands form part of the Canadian province of Quebec....

 (Rochers-aux-Oiseaux) in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Records suggest that this species may have bred on Cape Cod
Cape Cod
Cape Cod, often referred to locally as simply the Cape, is a cape in the easternmost portion of the state of Massachusetts, in the Northeastern United States...

, Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

. By the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the breeding range of the Great Auk was restricted to Funk Island, Grimsey Island, Eldey Island, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and St. Kilda Island. Funk Island was the largest known breeding colony.

The Great Auk migrated north and south away from the breeding colonies after the chicks fledged and tended to go southward during late fall and winter. It was common in the Grand Banks
Grand Banks
The Grand Banks of Newfoundland are a group of underwater plateaus southeast of Newfoundland on the North American continental shelf. These areas are relatively shallow, ranging from in depth. The cold Labrador Current mixes with the warm waters of the Gulf Stream here.The mixing of these waters...

. Its bones have been found as far south as Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

, where it may have occurred during four isolated time periods: around 1000 BC, 1000 AD, the 15th century, and the 17th century. (It has been suggested, however, that some of the bones discovered in Florida may be the result of aboriginal trading.)
It also frequented France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

, and even Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 in the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

. A 16th Century coastal watchtower on the Sicilian coast at Trapani
Trapani
Trapani is a city and comune on the west coast of Sicily in Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Trapani. Founded by Elymians, the city is still an important fishing port and the main gateway to the nearby Egadi Islands.-History:...

 was originally called St. Stephen's Tower of Great Auk after this bird which was known to frequent the Marausa bay. The Great Auk typically did not go further south than Massachusetts Bay
Massachusetts Bay
The Massachusetts Bay, also called Mass Bay, is one of the largest bays of the Atlantic Ocean which forms the distinctive shape of the coastline of the U.S. state of Massachusetts. Its waters extend 65 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Massachusetts Bay includes the Boston Harbor, Dorchester Bay,...

 in the winter.

Ecology and behavior

Great Auks walked slowly and sometimes used their wings to help them traverse rough terrain. When they did run, it was awkwardly and with short steps in a straight line. They had few natural predators, mainly large marine mammal
Marine mammal
Marine mammals, which include seals, whales, dolphins, and walruses, form a diverse group of 128 species that rely on the ocean for their existence. They do not represent a distinct biological grouping, but rather are unified by their reliance on the marine environment for feeding. The level of...

s, such as the Orca
Orca
The killer whale , commonly referred to as the orca, and less commonly as the blackfish, is a toothed whale belonging to the oceanic dolphin family. Killer whales are found in all oceans, from the frigid Arctic and Antarctic regions to tropical seas...

, and White-tailed Eagle
White-tailed Eagle
The White-tailed Eagle , also known as the Sea Eagle, Erne , or White-tailed Sea-eagle, is a large bird of prey in the family Accipitridae which includes other raptors such as hawks, kites, and harriers...

s. Polar bears preyed on nesting colonies of the auk. This species had no innate fear of human beings, and their flightlessness and awkwardness on land compounded their vulnerability. They were hunted for food, feathers, and as specimens for museums and private collections. Great Auks reacted to noises, but were rarely scared by the sight of something. The auks used their bills aggressively both in the dense nesting sites and when threatened or captured by humans. These birds are believed to have had a life span of about 20 to 25 years. During the winter, the Great Auk migrated south either in pairs or in small groups, and never with the entire nesting colony.

The Great Auk was generally an excellent swimmer, using its wings to propel itself underwater. While swimming, the head was held up but the neck was drawn in. This species was capable of banking, veering, and turning underwater. The Great Auk was known to dive to depths of 76 metres (249.3 ft) and it has been claimed that the species was able to dive to depths of 1 kilometres (3,280.8 ft). It could also hold its breath for 15 minutes, longer than a seal. The Great Auk was capable of accelerating under water, then shooting out of the water to land on a rocky ledge above the ocean's surface.

Diet

This alcid typically fed in shoaling waters which were shallower than those frequented by other alcids, although after the breeding season they had been sighted up to 500 kilometres (310.7 mi) from land. They are believed to have fed cooperatively in flocks. Their main food was fish, usually 12 to 20 cm (4.7 to 7.9 in) in length and weighing 40 to 50 g (1.4 to 1.8 oz), but occasionally their prey was up to half the bird's own length. The bird could on average dive up to 75 metres (246.1 ft) for its prey with the maximum dive depth being estimated at 130 metres (426.5 ft); however, to conserve energy, most dives were shallower. Its ability to dive this deeply reduced competition with other alcid species. Based on remains associated with Great Auk bones found on Funk Island
Funk Island
Funk Island is a small, barren, isolated, uninhabited island approximately northeast of Wesleyville, Newfoundland, Canada.-Geography:The island is roughly trapezoidal in shape, with a maximum length of 0.8 km and a maximum width of 0.3 km and is nearly flat, rising 14 m out of the North...

 and on ecological and morphological considerations, it seems that Atlantic Menhaden
Atlantic menhaden
The Atlantic menhaden is a silvery, highly compressed fish in the herring family, Clupeidae. A filter feeder, it lives on plankton caught in midwater. Adult fish can filter up to four gallons of water a minute; and they play an important role in clarifying ocean water...

 and Capelin
Capelin
The capelin or caplin, Mallotus villosus, is a small forage fish of the smelt family found in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. In summer, it grazes on dense swarms of plankton at the edge of the ice shelf. Larger capelin also eat a great deal of krill and other crustaceans...

 were their favored prey. Other fish suggested as potential prey include lumpsucker
Lumpsucker
Lumpsuckers or lumpfish are mostly small scorpaeniform marine fish of the family Cyclopteridae. They are found in the cold waters of the Arctic, North Atlantic, and North Pacific oceans...

s, Shorthorn Sculpins, cod
Cod
Cod is the common name for genus Gadus, belonging to the family Gadidae, and is also used in the common name for various other fishes. Cod is a popular food with a mild flavor, low fat content and a dense, flaky white flesh. Cod livers are processed to make cod liver oil, an important source of...

, crustaceans, and sand lance
Sand lance
A sand lance or sandlance is a fish belonging to the family Ammodytidae. Several species of sand lance are commonly known as "sand eels" or "sandeels", though they are not related to true eels. Another variant name is launce, and all names of the fish are references to its slender body and...

. The young of the Great Auk are believed to have eaten plankton
Plankton
Plankton are any drifting organisms that inhabit the pelagic zone of oceans, seas, or bodies of fresh water. That is, plankton are defined by their ecological niche rather than phylogenetic or taxonomic classification...

 and, possibly, fish and crustaceans regurgitated by adult auks.

Reproduction

Great Auks began pairing in early and mid May. They are believed to have mated for life, although some theorize that auks could have mated outside of their pair, a trait seen in the Razorbill. Once paired, they nested at the base of cliffs in colonies, where they likely copulated. Mated pairs had a social display in which they bobbed their heads, showing off their white eye patch, bill markings, and yellow mouth. These colonies were extremely crowded and dense, with some estimates stating that there was a nesting auk for every 1 square metres (10.8 sq ft) of land. These colonies were very social. When the colonies included other species of alcid, the Great Auks were dominant due to their size.

Female Great Auks would lay only one egg each year, between late May and early June, although they could lay a replacement egg if the first one was lost. In years when there was a shortage of food, the auk did not breed. A single egg was laid on bare ground up to 100 metres (328.1 ft) from shore. The egg was ovate and elongate in shape, and averaged 12.4 centimetres (4.9 in) in length and 7.6 centimetres (3 in) across at the widest point. The egg was yellowish white to light ochre with a varying pattern of black, brown or greyish spots and lines which often congregated on the large end. It is believed that the variation in the egg's streaks enabled the parents to recognize their egg in the colony. The pair took turns incubating the egg in an upright position for the 39 to 44 days before the egg hatched, typically in June, although eggs could be present at the colonies as late as August.

The parents also took turns feeding their chick. At birth, the chick was covered with grey down. The young bird took only two or three weeks to mature enough to abandon the nest and land for the water, typically around the middle of July. The parents cared for their young after they fledged, and adults would be seen swimming with their young perched on their backs. Great Auks sexually matured when they were four to seven years old.

Relationship with humans

The Great Auk is known to have been preyed upon by Neanderthal
Neanderthal
The Neanderthal is an extinct member of the Homo genus known from Pleistocene specimens found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia...

s more than 100,000 years ago, as evidenced by well-cleaned bones found by their campfires. Images of the Great Auk were also carved into the walls of the El Pinto Cave in Spain over 35,000 years ago, while cave paintings 20,000 years old have been found in France's Grotte Cosquer.

Native Americans who coexisted with the Great Auk valued it as a food source during the winter and as an important symbol. Images of the Great Auk have been found in bone necklaces. A person buried at the Maritime Archaic
Maritime Archaic
The Maritime Archaic is a North American cultural complex of the Late Archaic along the coast of Newfoundland, the Canadian Martimes and northern New England. The Maritime Archaic began in approximately 7000 BC and lasted into the 18th century. The culture consisted of sea-mammal hunters in the...

 site at Port au Choix
Port au Choix
Port au Choix or Port aux Choix is a town in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The nearest airport is Port au Choix Airport, 2.8 km to the southeast.- History :...

, Newfoundland
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador is the easternmost province of Canada. Situated in the country's Atlantic region, it incorporates the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador with a combined area of . As of April 2011, the province's estimated population is 508,400...

, dating to about 2000 BC, was interred clothed in a suit made from more than 200 Great Auk skins, with the heads left attached as decoration. Nearly half of the bird bones found in graves at this site were of the Great Auk, suggesting that it had cultural significance for the Maritime Archaic people. The extinct Beothuk
Beothuk
The Beothuk were one of the aboriginal peoples in Canada. They lived on the island of Newfoundland at the time of European contact in the 15th and 16th centuries...

s of Newfoundland made pudding out of the auk's eggs. The Dorset Eskimos also hunted the species, while the Saqqaq
Saqqaq culture
The Saqqaq culture was a Paleo-Eskimo culture in Greenland.-Timeframe:...

 in Greenland overhunted the species, causing a local reduction in range.

Later, European sailors used the auks as a navigational beacon, as the presence of these birds signaled that the Grand Banks of Newfoundland were near.

Extinction

This species is estimated to have had a maximum population in the millions, although some scientists dispute this estimate. The Great Auk was hunted on a significant scale for food, eggs, and its down feather
Down feather
The down of birds is a layer of fine feathers found under the tougher exterior feathers. Very young birds are clad only in down. Powder down is a specialized type of down found only in a few groups of birds. Down is a fine thermal insulator and padding, used in goods such as jackets, bedding,...

s from at least the 8th century. Prior to that, hunting by local natives can be documented from Late Stone Age Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

 and eastern North America, as well as from early 5th century Labrador
Labrador
Labrador is the distinct, northerly region of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It comprises the mainland portion of the province, separated from the island of Newfoundland by the Strait of Belle Isle...

, where the bird seems to have occurred only as a straggler. Early explorers, including Jacques Cartier
Jacques Cartier
Jacques Cartier was a French explorer of Breton origin who claimed what is now Canada for France. He was the first European to describe and map the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the shores of the Saint Lawrence River, which he named "The Country of Canadas", after the Iroquois names for the two big...

 and numerous ships attempting to find gold on Baffin Island
Baffin Island
Baffin Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut is the largest island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the largest island in Canada and the fifth largest island in the world. Its area is and its population is about 11,000...

, were not provisioned with food for the journey home, and therefore used this species as both a convenient food source and bait for fishing. Some of the later vessels anchored next to a colony and ran out planks to the land. The sailors then herded hundreds of these auks onto the ships, where they were then slaughtered. Some authors have questioned whether this hunting method actually occurred successfully. Great Auk eggs were also a valued food source, as the eggs were three times the size of a murre's and had a large yolk. These sailors also introduced rats onto the islands.
The Little Ice Age
Little Ice Age
The Little Ice Age was a period of cooling that occurred after the Medieval Warm Period . While not a true ice age, the term was introduced into the scientific literature by François E. Matthes in 1939...

 may have reduced the population of the Great Auk by exposing more of their breeding islands to predation by Polar Bears, but massive exploitation for their down drastically reduced the population. By the mid-16th century, the nesting colonies along the European side of the Atlantic were nearly all eliminated by humans killing this bird for its down, which was used to make pillows. In 1553, the auk received its first official protection, and in 1794 Great Britain banned the killing of this species for its feathers. In St. John's
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
St. John's is the capital and largest city in Newfoundland and Labrador, and is the oldest English-founded city in North America. It is located on the eastern tip of the Avalon Peninsula on the island of Newfoundland. With a population of 192,326 as of July 1, 2010, the St...

, individuals violating a 1775 law banning hunting the Great Auk for its feathers or eggs were publicly flogged, though hunting for use as fishing bait was still permitted. On the North American side, eider
Eider
Eiders are large seaducks in the genus Somateria. Steller's Eider, despite its name, is in a different genus.The three extant species all breed in the cooler latitudes of the Northern hemisphere....

 down was initially preferred, but once the eiders were nearly driven to extinction in the 1770s, down collectors switched to the auk at the same time that hunting for food, fishing bait, and oil decreased. Specimens of the Great Auk and its eggs became collectible and highly prized by rich Europeans, and the loss of a large number of its eggs to collection contributed to the demise of the species. According to Errol Fuller
Errol Fuller
Errol Fuller is an English writer and painter who lives in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. He was born in Blackpool, Lancashire, and grew up in South London, England and was educated at Addey and Stanhope School...

, 78 skins survive to this day. Eggers, individuals who visited the nesting sites of the Great Auk to collect their eggs, quickly realized that the birds did not all lay their eggs on the same day, so they could make return visits to the same breeding colony. Eggers only collected eggs without embryos growing inside of them and typically discarded the eggs with embryos.

It was on the islet of Stac an Armin
Stac an Armin
Stac an Armin , based on the proper Scottish Gaelic spelling , is a sea stack in the St Kilda archipelago. It is 196 metres tall, qualifying it as a Marilyn...

, St Kilda, Scotland
St Kilda, Scotland
St Kilda is an isolated archipelago west-northwest of North Uist in the North Atlantic Ocean. It contains the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The largest island is Hirta, whose sea cliffs are the highest in the United Kingdom and three other islands , were also used for...

, in July 1840, that the last Great Auk seen in the British Isles was caught and killed. Three men from St Kilda caught a single "garefowl", noticing its little wings and the large white spot on its head. They tied it up and kept it alive for three days, until a large storm arose. Believing that the auk was a witch and the cause of the storm, they then killed it by beating it with a stick.
The last colony of Great Auks lived on Geirfuglasker
Geirfuglasker
Geirfuglasker was one or a few small islet near Iceland. It was volcanic rock surrounded by cliffs, which made it inaccessible to humans, and the last refuge for the Great Auk...

 (the "Great Auk Rock") off Iceland. This islet was a volcanic rock surrounded by cliffs which made it inaccessible to humans, but in 1830 the islet submerged after a volcanic eruption, and the birds moved to the nearby island of Eldey
Eldey
Eldey is a small island about off the coast of the Reykjanes Peninsula, southwest Iceland. Located west-southwest of Reykjavík, the island of Eldey covers an area of about , and rises to a height of . Its sheer cliffs are home to large numbers of birds, including one of the largest Northern Gannet...

, which was accessible from a single side. When the colony was initially discovered in 1835, nearly fifty birds were present. Museums, desiring the skins of the auk for preservation and display, quickly began collecting birds from the colony. The last pair, found incubating an egg, was killed there on 3 July 1844, with Jón Brandsson and Sigurður Ísleifsson strangling the adults and Ketill Ketilsson smashing the egg with his boot. However, a later claim of a live individual sighted in 1852 on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland has been accepted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).

Today, around 75 eggs of the Great Auk remain in museum collections, along with 24 complete skeletons and 81 mounted skins. While thousands of isolated bones have been collected from 19th century Funk Island
Funk Island
Funk Island is a small, barren, isolated, uninhabited island approximately northeast of Wesleyville, Newfoundland, Canada.-Geography:The island is roughly trapezoidal in shape, with a maximum length of 0.8 km and a maximum width of 0.3 km and is nearly flat, rising 14 m out of the North...

 to Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 midden
Midden
A midden, is an old dump for domestic waste which may consist of animal bone, human excrement, botanical material, vermin, shells, sherds, lithics , and other artifacts and ecofacts associated with past human occupation...

s, only a small number of complete skeletons exist. Following the bird's extinction, the price of its eggs sometimes reached up to 11 times the amount earned by a skilled worker in a year.

Cultural depictions

The Great Auk is one of the more frequently referenced extinct birds in literature. It appears in many works of children's literature.
  • Charles Kingsley
    Charles Kingsley
    Charles Kingsley was an English priest of the Church of England, university professor, historian and novelist, particularly associated with the West Country and northeast Hampshire.-Life and character:...

    's The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby
    The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby
    The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby is a children's novel by the Reverend Charles Kingsley. Written in 1862–1863 as a serial for Macmillan's Magazine, it was first published in its entirety in 1863...

    depicts a Great Auk (giving it its Scandinavian name "Gairfowl") telling the tale of its species's extinction. (In this image, Kingsley's artist clearly mistook the words "large pair of white spectacles", intended to mean the natural white patches on the bird's face.)
  • Enid Blyton
    Enid Blyton
    Enid Blyton was an English children's writer also known as Mary Pollock.Noted for numerous series of books based on recurring characters and designed for different age groups,her books have enjoyed huge success in many parts of the world, and have sold over 600 million copies.One of Blyton's most...

    's The Island of Adventure. features the bird's extinction, sending the protagonist on a failed search for what he believes is a lost colony of the species.


The Great Auk is also present in a wide variety of other works of fiction.
  • In his novel Ulysses
    Ulysses (novel)
    Ulysses is a novel by the Irish author James Joyce. It was first serialised in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920, and then published in its entirety by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922, in Paris. One of the most important works of Modernist literature,...

    , James Joyce
    James Joyce
    James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

     mentions the bird while the novel's main character is drifting into sleep. He associates the Great Auk with the mythical roc bird as a method of formally returning the main character to a sleepy land of fantasy and memory.
  • Penguin Island, a 1908 French satirical novel by the Nobel Prize
    Nobel Prize
    The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

     winning author Anatole France
    Anatole France
    Anatole France , born François-Anatole Thibault, , was a French poet, journalist, and novelist. He was born in Paris, and died in Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire. He was a successful novelist, with several best-sellers. Ironic and skeptical, he was considered in his day the ideal French man of letters...

    , narrates the fictional history of a Great Auk population that is mistakenly baptized by a nearsighted
    Myopia
    Myopia , "shortsightedness" ) is a refractive defect of the eye in which collimated light produces image focus in front of the retina under conditions of accommodation. In simpler terms, myopia is a condition of the eye where the light that comes in does not directly focus on the retina but in...

     missionary
    Missionary
    A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism or ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad, derived from the Latin...

    .
  • A Great Auk is collected by fictional naturalist Stephen Maturin in the Patrick O'Brian
    Patrick O'Brian
    Patrick O'Brian, CBE , born Richard Patrick Russ, was an English novelist and translator, best known for his Aubrey–Maturin series of novels set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and centred on the friendship of English Naval Captain Jack Aubrey and the Irish–Catalan physician Stephen...

     historical novel The Surgeon's Mate
    The Surgeon's Mate
    The Surgeon's Mate is a historical novel written by Patrick O'Brian and set during the Napoleonic Wars. It is the seventh book in the Aubrey–Maturin series.-Plot summary:...

    . This work also details the harvesting of a colony of auks.
  • The Great Auk is the subject of a novel, The Last Great Auk by Allen Eckert, which tells of the events leading to the extinction of the Great Auk as seen from the perspective of the last one alive.
  • The bird also appears in Farley Mowat
    Farley Mowat
    Farley McGill Mowat, , born May 12, 1921 is a conservationist and one of Canada's most widely-read authors.His works have been translated into 52 languages and he has sold more than 14 million books. He achieved fame with the publication of his books on the Canadian North, such as People of the...

    's Sea of Slaughter.
  • It is the subject of a ballet, Still Life at the Penguin Café
    Still Life at the Penguin Cafe
    Still Life at the Penguin Cafe is the name of a ballet choreographed by David Bintley and featuring music composed by Simon Jeffes, founder of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. It is also the title of the accompanying album. Geoffrey Richardson co-wrote one of the pieces.The ballet's debut production...

    , and a song, 'A Dream too Far', in the ecological musical Rockford's Rock Opera
    Rockford's Rock Opera
    Rockford's Rock Opera is an ecological musical story created by Matthew Sweetapple, Steve Punt and Elaine Sweetapple. It was first released on the internet and as a three album set by Sweetapple in 2009....

    .
  • A Great Auk appears as a prized possession of Baba the Turk in Igor Stravinsky's opera The Rake's Progress
    The Rake's Progress
    The Rake's Progress is an opera in three acts and an epilogue by Igor Stravinsky. The libretto, written by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, is based loosely on the eight paintings and engravings A Rake's Progress of William Hogarth, which Stravinsky had seen on May 2, 1947, in a Chicago...

    (libretto by W. H Auden and Chester Kallman).
  • The Great Auk is the mascot
    Mascot
    The term mascot – defined as a term for any person, animal, or object thought to bring luck – colloquially includes anything used to represent a group with a common public identity, such as a school, professional sports team, society, military unit, or brand name...

     of the Archmere Academy
    Archmere Academy
    Archmere Academy is a Roman Catholic college preparatory school of 474 students in Claymont, Delaware. It is run independently within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington.-History:...

     in Claymont, Delaware
    Claymont, Delaware
    Claymont is a census-designated place in New Castle County, Delaware, United States. The population was 9,220 at the 2000 census.-History:...

    , Sir Sandford Fleming College
    Fleming College
    Fleming College, also known as Sir Sandford Fleming College, is a College of Applied Arts and Technology in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. The College has more than 6,000 full-time and 10,000 part-time students and 58,000 alumni.-Campus:...

     in Ontario
    Ontario
    Ontario is a province of Canada, located in east-central Canada. It is Canada's most populous province and second largest in total area. It is home to the nation's most populous city, Toronto, and the nation's capital, Ottawa....

    , and the Adelaide University Choral Society (AUCS) in Australia
    Australia
    Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

    . It is also the mascot of the Knowledge Masters educational competition.
  • The scientific journal of the American Ornithologists' Union
    American Ornithologists' Union
    The American Ornithologists' Union is an ornithological organization in the USA. Unlike the National Audubon Society, its members are primarily professional ornithologists rather than amateur birders...

     is named The Auk
    The Auk
    The Auk is a quarterly journal and the official publication of the American Ornithologists' Union, having been continuously published by that body since 1884. The journal contains articles relating scientific studies of the anatomy, behavior, and distribution of birds. The journal is named for the...

    in honour of this bird.
  • According to Homer Hickam
    Homer Hickam
    Homer Hadley Hickam, Jr. is an American author, Vietnam veteran, and a former NASA engineer. His autobiographical novel Rocket Boys: A Memoir, was a #1 New York Times Best Seller, is studied in many American and international school systems, and was the basis for the popular film October Sky...

    's memoir, Rocket Boys
    Rocket Boys
    Rocket Boys is the first memoir in a series of three, by Homer Hickam, Jr. It is a story of growing up in a mining town, and a boy's pursuit of amateur rocketry in a coal mining town. It won the in 1998, the year of its release. Today, it is one of the most often picked community/library reads in...

    , and its movie production, October Sky
    October Sky
    October Sky is a 1999 American biographical film directed by Joe Johnston, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper and Laura Dern. It is based on the true story of Homer Hickam, a coal miner's son who was inspired by the launch of Sputnik 1 to take up rocketry against his father's wishes, and who...

    , the early rockets he and his friends built were ironically named "Auk".
  • A cigarette company, the British Great Auk Cigarettes, was named after this bird.
  • Walton Ford
    Walton Ford
    Walton Ford is an American artist who paints large scale watercolors in the style of Audubon's naturalist illustrations. Each painting is a meticulous study in flora and fauna, while being filled with symbols, clues and jokes referencing a multitude of texts from colonial literature and folktales...

    , the American painter, has featured Great Auks in two paintings: 'The Witch of St. Kilda' and 'Funk Island'.

  • The English painter and writer Errol Fuller
    Errol Fuller
    Errol Fuller is an English writer and painter who lives in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. He was born in Blackpool, Lancashire, and grew up in South London, England and was educated at Addey and Stanhope School...

     produced 'Last Stand' for his monograph on the species. The Great Auk also appeared on one stamp in a set of five depicting extinct birds issued by Cuba
    Cuba
    The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

     in 1974.
  • The mascot of the Knowledge Master Open
    Knowledge Master Open
    The Knowledge Master Open is a computer-based semiannual worldwide academic competition in which teams of students from many schools earn points by answering multiple-choice questions quickly and accurately...

     is a pun-loving, costume-wearing Great Auk.

External links

  • Auk Egg Auction Time Magazine, November 26, 1934.
  • Great Auk: Audubon fact sheet
  • 3D view of specimen RMNH 110.104 at Naturalis
    Naturalis
    Naturalis is the national natural history museum of the Netherlands, based in Leiden. It originated from the merger of the Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie and the Rijksmuseum van Geologie en Mineralogie in 1984. In 1986 it was decided that the museum had to become a public museum and a new...

    , Leiden (requires QuickTime
    QuickTime
    QuickTime is an extensible proprietary multimedia framework developed by Apple Inc., capable of handling various formats of digital video, picture, sound, panoramic images, and interactivity. The classic version of QuickTime is available for Windows XP and later, as well as Mac OS X Leopard and...

    browser plugin)
The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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