Species Profile

Great Auk

Scientific Name: Pinguinus impennis
Taxonomy Group: Birds
Range: Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2000
Last COSEWIC Designation: Extinct
SARA Status: No Schedule, No Status

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Image of Great Auk

Great Auk Photo 1



The Great Auk was the largest member of the Family Alcidae, and the only auk which could not fly. Although not a penguin, it resembled these flightless birds of the southern hemisphere with its black back, white abdomen, small wings and upright posture. Distinctive features included a black, grooved bill; brown on the sides of the head, neck and throat; and a large white patch in front of the eyes.


Distribution and Population

The Great Auk bred along both coasts of the North Atlantic Ocean. In Canada, it was found in Newfoundland, on the Magdalen Islands, in New Brunswick and in Nova Scotia. The Great Auk wintered from southern Greenland to southern Florida and southern Spain.



The Great Auk inhabited the coastal waters of the North Atlantic, nesting in large colonies on rocky coasts and islets.



The Great Auk nested in large colonies. Each nesting pair could produce only one egg a year, which was placed on bare rock. The auks were very agile swimmers, but were clumsy and vulnerable on land.


Reasons for extinction

These birds were hunted extensively for feathers, which were used in bedding, as well as for food. Their eggs were collected and even the chicks were taken, to serve as fish bait. The last Great Auk was killed in Iceland on June 3, 1844.




PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

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