Little Auk

Alle alle

17-19cm

Appearance

The smallest auk found in the region. It has a small, black, blunt bill, and a short tail and neck. In summer plumage (not usually seen in the region), it is black on top, and on the head and neck, and white beneath. In winter the neck and lower parts of the face whiten, leaving a black cap and nape. Underparts are white. There's a tiny white mark above the eye and white lines on the wings, but these features require close proximity to identify. Juveniles resemble summer adults, but they're less vivid; they're not usually seen in the region. When flying, Little Auks are dark when viewed from beneath.

Habitat

Breeds in the Arctic environment, by the coast, high on cliffs or on islands. Prefers to nest in rocks and scree. When not breeding the Little Auk is a seabird, rarely seen on land.

Character

When in the air, the Little Auk is sometimes compared to a small wader, and its wingbeats are rapid and whirring. It's a colonial nester when on Arctic breeding grounds. May follow zooplankton patterns, as it's a main food source for this bird.

Food

Diet includes plankton, small marine creatures, fish and shellfish.

Breeding

Once the snow has melted, usually around the end of June or beginning of July, females lay a single egg. Both parents incubate the egg, and once it's hatched, the chick broods under a parent's wing. Hatchling departs the nest after approximately 17 days and it remains with one parent for a while.

Population

A winter visitor to the region; birds depart breeding ground in August and make their way to winter habitats. They may not go far, or they may travel across the North Atlantic or to the North Sea. The population the region sees varies greatly each year.

Observation Tips

It's thought that many birds visit seas around the region, but it's not in their nature to come to land so they can be difficult to see. During January and February, Little Auks may be seen closer to land due to strong winds, particularly around the east coast of England and the south of Scotland.

Voice

Quiet when in the region. On breeding territories, it chatters and can be quite loud.
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