email a friend
printable version
Great Auk Pinguinus impennis
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This species was formerly distributed across the north Atlantic, but is now Extinct as a result of hunting pressure. The last live bird was seen in 1852.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Brooks, T. 2000. Extinct species. In: BirdLife International (ed.), Threatened birds of the world, pp. 701-708. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge, U.K.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Distribution and population
Pinguinus impennis occurred in naturally scattered colonies (Bengtson 1984) across the North Atlantic until the 19th century, breeding from Canada through Greenland (to Denmark), the Faeroe Islands (to Denmark) and Iceland to Ireland and the UK, with archeological records from the western coast of Europe from European Russia south to France (Bourne 1993), and wintering offshore south to New England, USA, and southern Spain (Montevecchi and Kirk 1996). The last known pair were killed on Eldey Island, Iceland, in 1844, and the last live bird was seen off the Newfoundland Banks in 1852 (Halliday 1979).

Historically, birds bred only on remote, rocky islands, probably due to early extirpation in more accessible sites (Lyngs 1994). Birds were flightless (Livezey 1988). Immatures probably fed on plankton (Hobson and Montevecchi 1991) while adults dived for fish (Olson et al. 1979).

Details of how it was driven to extinction by hunting for its feathers, meat, fat and oil are well known (Grieve 1885). As birds became more scarce, specimen collecting became the proximate cause of their extinction (Birkhead 1994).

Bengtson, S. - A. 1984. Breeding ecology and extinction of the Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis): anecdotal evidence and conjectures. The Auk 101(1): 1-12.

Birkhead, T. 1994. How collectors killed the Great Auk? New Scientist 1927: 24-27.

Bourne, W. R. P. 1993. The story of the Great Auk Pinguinus impennis. Archives of Natural History 20: 257-278.

Grieve, S. 1885. The Great Auk, or Garefowl (Alca impennis Linn.): its history, archeology and remains. Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh, UK.

Halliday, T. R. 1979. The Great Auk. Oceans 12: 27-31.

Hobson, K. A.; Montevecchi, W. A. 1991. Stable isotope determination of the trophic status of the Great Auk. Oecologia 87: 528-531.

Livezey, B. C. 1988. Morphometrics of flightlessness in the Alcidae. The Auk 105: 681-698.

Lyngs, P. 1994. Gejrfuglen. Et 150 års minde. Dansk Ornitologisk Forenings Tidsskrift 88: 49-72.

Montevecchi, W. A.; Kirk, D. A. 1996. Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis). In: Poole, A.; Gill, F. (ed.), The birds of North America, No. 260, pp. 1-20. The Academy of Natural Sciences, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.

Olson, S. L.; Swift, C. C.; Mokhiber, C. 1979. An attempt to determine the prey of the Great Auk Pinguinus impennis. The Auk 96: 790-792.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Brooks, T., Khwaja, N., Mahood, S.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Pinguinus impennis. Downloaded from on 22/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 22/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Great auk (Pinguinus impennis) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Extinct
Family Alcidae (Auks)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1758)
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment