Alcidae – Auks

Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica ©James Lowen Website

In some ways, the auks are the penguins of the Northern Hemisphere, though they are in fact completely unrelated. Both auks and penguins are deep diving seabirds that feed by pursuing fish underwater; however, unlike the penguins, which have lost the power of flight, most auks can fly, although their fast whirring flight and dumpy bodies do not make for elegance. Only one species of auk, the Great Auk, was flightless, and it is now extinct.

Several species have different common names in Europe and North America. The guillemots of Europe are referred to as murres in North America, if they occur in both continents, and the little auk is referred to as the dovekie.

A small family, auks occur throughout the seas of the Northern Hemisphere. Most species are dark above and white below, which acts as camouflage, though some, such as the Puffin have colourful beaks or, amongst the murrelets, tufts or crests. The legs are set far back on the body making them accomplished swimmers, but rather ungainly on land, and most come ashore only for a short period to breed.

The feeding behaviour of auks is often compared to that of penguins; both groups are wing-propelled pursuit divers. In the region where auks live, their only seabird competition is the cormorants (which are dive-powered by their strong feet). In areas where the two groups feed on the same prey, the auks tend to feed further offshore. Strong-swimming murres hunt faster schooling fish, whereas auklets take slower moving krill. Time depth recorders on auks have shown that they can dive as deep as 100 m in the case of Uria guillemots, 40 m for the Cepphus guillemots and 30 m for the auklets.

Auks are pelagic birds, spending the majority of their adult life on the open sea and going ashore only for breeding, although some species, like the Common Guillemot, spend a great part of the year defending their nesting spot from others. Auks are monogamous, and tend to form lifelong pairs. They typically lay a single egg, and they are philopatric (they use the nesting site year after year).

Some species, such as the Uria guillemots, nest in large colonies on cliff edges; others, like the Cepphus guillemots, breed in small groups on rocky coasts; and the puffins, auklets and some murrelets nest in burrows. All species except the Brachyramphus murrelets are colonial.

According to the IOC there are 24 species of Auks in the familly Alcidae; they are:

Little Auk Alle alle

Thick-billed Murre Uria lomvia
Common Murre Uria aalge

Razorbill Alca torda

Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle
Pigeon Guillemot Cepphus columba
Spectacled Guillemot Cepphus carbo

Marbled Murrelet Brachyramphus marmoratus
Long-billed Murrelet Brachyramphus perdix
Kittlitz’s Murrelet Brachyramphus brevirostris

Guadalupe Murrelet Synthliboramphus hypoleucus
Scripps’s Murrelet Synthliboramphus scrippsi
Craveri’s Murrelet Synthliboramphus craveri
Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus
Japanese Murrelet Synthliboramphus wumizusume

Cassin’s Auklet Ptychoramphus aleuticus

Parakeet Auklet Aethia psittacula
Least Auklet Aethia pusilla
Whiskered Auklet Aethia pygmaea
Crested Auklet Aethia cristatella

Rhinoceros Auklet Cerorhinca monocerata

Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica
Horned Puffin Fratercula corniculata
Tufted Puffin Fratercula cirrhata

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 24

Useful Reading
Organisations
  • Japanese Alcid Society

    Website
    For those who don't know
  • Project Puffin

    Website
    The National Audubon Society started Project Puffin in 1973 in an effort to learn how to restore puffins to historic nesting islands in the Gulf of Maine. At that time, literally all the puffin eggs in Maine were in two baskets - Matinicus Rock and Machias Seal Island. Although puffins are not an endangered species (they are abundant in Newfoundland, Iceland, and Britain); they are rare in Maine. The two surviving colonies were very vulnerable to a disaster such as an oil spill, or accidental establishment of predators such as rats or mink
  • Southern Oceans Seabird Study Association

    Facebook Page
    SOSSA was founded by members of the New South Wales Albatross Study Group (NSWASG) in 1994. It was set up to be an umbrella organisation for many study groups concerned with studies of Southern Ocean bio-diversity. SOSSA is a wildlife research and conservation group which consists of dedicated people both professional and amateur. These people share a common interest and concern for the environment and the wildlife of the Southern Oceans…
  • The Seabird Group

    Website
    The Seabird Group, a registered charity, was founded in 1966 to promote and help coordinate the study and conservation of seabirds
Other Links
  • Great Auk

    Website
    Large breeding colonies of this flightless, penguin-like sea bird once gathered on rocky islands and coasts of the North Atlantic in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the British Isles, and Scandinavia. A strong swimmer, the great auk wintered as far south as Florida and southern Spain…
  • Japanese Murrelet song

    Website
    Sonogram
Photographers & Artists
  • Ancient Murrelet Synthlibormaphus antiquus

    Gallery
    Excellent image
  • Atlantic [Common] Puffin Fratercula arctica

    Gallery
    Excellent images
  • Atlantic [Common] Puffin Fratercula arctica

    Gallery
    Several Brilliant images
  • Brunnich's Guillemot [Thick-Billed Murre] Uria lomvia

    Gallery
    Very crisp image
  • Cassin's Auklet Ptychoramphus aleuticus

    Gallery
    Image
  • Common [Murre] Guillemot Uria aalge

    Gallery
    Brilliant images
  • Common [Murre] Guillemot Uria aalge

    Gallery
    Excellent image
  • Common [Murre] Guillemot Uria aalge

    Gallery
    Superb image
  • Common [Murre] Guillemot Uria aalge

    Gallery
    Excellent [in-flight] image
  • Craveri's Murrelet Synthliboramphus craveri

    Gallery
    Excellent image of juvenile
  • Crested Auklet Aethia cristatella

    Gallery
    Good image
  • Crested Auklet Aethia cristatella

    Gallery
    Good image
  • Crested Auklet Aethia cristatella

    Gallery
    Very good image
  • Crested Auklet Aethia cristatella

    Gallery
    Excellent images
  • Horned Puffin Fratercula corniculata

    Gallery
    Excellent image
  • Horned Puffin Fratercula corniculata

    Gallery
    Brilliant image
  • Horned Puffin Fratercula corniculata

    Gallery
    Brilliant image
  • Horned Puffin Fratercula corniculata

    Gallery
    Superb images - some in flight
  • Least Auklet Aethia pusilla

    Gallery
    Excellent images
  • Least Auklet Aethia pusilla

    Gallery
    Excellent image
  • Least Auklet Aethia pusilla

    Gallery
    Excellent image
  • Least Auklet Aethia pusilla

    Gallery
    Images
  • Parakeet Auklet Aethia psittacula

    Wiki
    The parakeet auklet (Aethia psittacula) is a small seabird of the North Pacific. Parakeet Auklets used to be placed on its own in the genus Cyclorrhynchus (Kaup, 1829) but recent morphological and genetic evidence suggest it should be placed in the genus Aethia, making them closely related to crested auklets and least auklets. It is associated with the boreal waters of Alaska, Kamchatka and Siberia. It breeds on the cliffs, slopes and boulder fields of offshore islands, generally moving south during the winter...
  • Parakeet Auklet Aethia psittacula

    Gallery
    Excellent images
  • Pigeon Guillemot Cepphus columba

    Gallery
    Image
  • Pigeon Guillemot Cepphus columba

    Gallery
    Excellent image
  • Rhinoceros Auklet Cerorhinca monocerata

    Gallery
    Image at sea
  • Tufted Puffin Fratercula cirrhata

    Gallery
    Excellent image
  • Tufted Puffin Fratercula cirrhata

    Gallery
    Excellent images

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