Little auk

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Little auk
AlleAlle 2.jpg
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Alcidae
Genus: Alle
Link, 1806
Species: A. alle
Binomial name
Alle alle
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The little auk, or dovekie (Alle alle),[2] 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. polaris on Franz Josef Land.

Morphology and behaviour[edit]

Little auk in winter plumage

This is the only Atlantic auk of its size, half the size of the Atlantic puffin at 19–21 cm in length, with a 34–38 cm wingspan. Adult birds are black on the head, neck, back and wings, with white underparts. The bill is very short and stubby. They have a small rounded black tail. The lower face and fore neck become white in winter.

The flight is direct, with fast whirring wing beats due to the short wings. These birds forage for food like other auks by swimming underwater. They mainly eat crustaceans, especially copepods, but also other small invertebrates along with small fish. They collect in large swarms before leaving their breeding rocks to head out to sea for food as well as when they return.

Little auks on Svalbard

Little auks produce a variety of twitters and cackling calls at the breeding colonies, but are silent at sea.

Habitat and range[edit]

Their breeding habitat is coastal mountainsides, where they have large colonies. They nest in crevices or beneath large rocks, usually laying just one egg. They move south in winter into northern areas of the north Atlantic. Late autumn storms may carry them south of their normal wintering areas, or into the North Sea. The species is also commonly found in the Norwegian Sea.[3]

In the book, The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder writes of her father finding a small bird that looked just like a great auk hidden in a haystack after an early October blizzard when the family lived near De Smet, South Dakota around 1880. The family never did find out what it was, but it appears to have been a little auk, blown south by the autumn blizzard.

The glaucous gull and the Arctic fox are the main predators on little auks, and, in some cases, the polar bear has also been reported to feed on their eggs.[4]

Conservation[edit]

Large numbers of little auks have been killed in several oil-spill incidents[citation needed]. but climate changes (warming) in Southern Greenland and Iceland seems to be the reason for the decreasing populations there[citation needed].

As a human food resource[edit]

Kiviaq is an Inuit dish from Greenland. It is made by stuffing a seal skin with 300 to 500 dovekies. Once full and airtight, the skin is sealed with seal fat and the dovekies are left to ferment for 3 to 18 months under a pile of rocks. Caught in spring, the dovekies serve as a food resource in winter.

Knud Rasmussen's death is attributed to food poisoning by kiviaq.

References[edit]

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Alle alle". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Animal Diversity Web, 2008
  3. ^ C.Michael Hogan. 2011. Norwegian Sea. Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. P.Saundry & C.J.Cleveland. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC
  4. ^ K. Isaksen and M. V. Gavrilo, 2000