On This Day: July 3rd

On July 3rd 1844 the last pair of Great Auks were killed. The last two confirmed specimens were killed on Eldey, off the coast of Iceland, which also eliminated the last known breeding attempt. 

The Great Auk was a flightless bird of the alcid family that became extinct in the mid-19th century. It was the only modern species in the genus Pinguinus (unrelated to penguins, although it was the first bird to be called penguin). It bred on rocky, isolated islands with easy access to the ocean and a plentiful food supply, a rarity in nature that provided only a few breeding sites for the Auks. When not breeding, the Auks spent their time foraging in the waters of the North Atlantic, ranging as far south as northern Spain and also around the coast of Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, Ireland, and Great Britain.

There are unconfirmed later reports of roaming individuals being seen or caught. A record of a bird in 1852 is considered by some to be the last sighting of the species. 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.

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