The great auk was a charming, penguin-like bird that swam the waters and waddled along the shores of the North Atlantic. By the mid-1800s, humans had driven the species to extinction, and the birds left a great auk-shaped hole in local ecosystems. Now, a team of scientists is hoping to bring them back.
Great auks belonged to the family Alcidae (order Charadriiformes). They bred in colonies on rocky islands off North Atlantic coasts (St. Kilda, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Funk Island off Newfoundland); subfossil remains have been found as far south as Florida, Spain, and Italy.
On July 3, 1844, fishermen killed the last confirmed pair of great auks at Eldey Island, Iceland. The fishermen who killed the last breeding pair were working for a businessman who wanted to sell the specimens to collectors. About 80 great auks and a like number of their eggs are preserved in museums.
The great auk is mentioned in several novels and the scientific journal of the American Ornithologists' Union is named The Auk in honour of this bird. It is also appeared on one stamp in a set of five depicting extinct birds issued by Cuba in 1974.
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