Little Auk

Information about the Bird Little Auk

It breeds on islands in the high Arctic. There are two subspecies: A. a. alle breeds in Greenland, Iceland, Novaya Zemlya and Spitzbergen, and A. a. polaris on Franz Josef Land.The little auk or dovekie (Alle alle) is a small auk, the only member of the genus Alle. Alle is the Sami name of the long-tailed duck; it is onomatopoeic and imitates the call of the drake duck. Linnaeus was not particularly familiar with the winter plumages of either the auk or the duck, and appears to have confused the two species.

This is the only Atlantic auk of its size, half the size of the Atlantic puffin at 19-21cm in length, with a 34-38cm 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 produce a variety of twitters and cackling calls at the breeding colonies, but are silent at sea.
Little auks breed in large colonies on marine cliffsides. They nest in crevices or beneath large rocks, usually laying just a single 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.
The glaucous gull and the Arctic fox are the main predators on little auks. In some cases, the polar bear has also been reported to feed on Little auk eggs.
Although populations appear to be decreasing, this is not currently thought to be rapid enough to be of concern for the species in the medium term, especially as global Little auk numbers are generally rather fluid. Little auks have been shown to be able to buffer fluctuations in prey availability, caused by climate change, via plasticity in their foraging behavior, which is likely to make accurate conservation assessments more difficult.
Kiviaq is an Inuit dish from Greenland. It is made by stuffing a seal skin with 300 to 500 little auks. Once full and airtight, the skin is sealed with seal fat and the little auks are left to ferment for 3 to 18 months under a pile of rocks. Caught in spring, little auks are a human food resource in winter.
Knud Rasmussen's death is attributed to food poisoning by kiviaq.

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