The great auk is a species of flightless alcid that became extinct in the mid-19th century. It was the only modern species in the genus Pinguinus. It is not closely related to the birds now known as penguins, which were discovered later and so named because of their physical resemblance.
About Great auk in brief
The great auk is a species of flightless alcid that became extinct in the mid-19th century. It was the only modern species in the genus Pinguinus. It is not closely related to the birds now known as penguins, which were discovered later and so named by sailors because of their physical resemblance. It bred on rocky, isolated islands with easy access to the ocean and a plentiful food supply, a rarity in nature. When not breeding, they spent their time foraging in the waters of the North Atlantic, ranging as far south as northern Spain and along the coastlines of Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, Ireland, and Great Britain. The wings were only 15 cm long, rendering the bird flightless. Its favourite prey were fish, including Atlantic menhaden and capelin, and crustaceans. It nested in extremely dense and social colonies, laying one egg on bare rock. The egg was white with variable brown marbling. Both parents participated in the incubation of the egg for around 6 weeks before the young hatched. The young left the nest site after 2–3 weeks, although the parents continued to care for it. Early European explorers to the Americas used thegreat 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 that largely eliminated the European populations by theMid-16th century and the last known sighting of a member of the species was in 1852.
Some ornologists believe it is more appropriate to retain the species in Alca, the only recorded British bird made extinct in historic times. The scientific journal of the American Ornithologists’ Union is named The Auk in honour of this bird. The fossil record and molecular evidence show that the three closely related genera diverged soon after their common ancestor, a bird probably similar to a stout Xantus’s murrelet, had spread to the coasts of the Atlantic. Razorbill-like birds were common in the Atlantic during the Pliocene, but the evolution of the Atlantic alcids is sparsely documented, but evidence suggests placing the great aUK in a distinct genus is compatible with either the Alca or Razorbill. The following cladogram shows the placement of the great auk among its closest relatives, based on a 2004 genetic study: Alca impyrhus impyrhus marmorus brachyrhus, U.S. Brachyrhus imporus tormus, and Brachyrus imperus marmorus marmoratus brchyrus, in the genus Pinguinus (Alca: U.S., Brasilis, Brasilis and Brassilis). It is the only British bird recorded to have been made extinct in historic times in such times.