Great Auk Pinguinus impennis


Justification of Red List category
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.

Population justification
No extant population remains.

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 archaeological 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).


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

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Pinguinus impennis. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/great-auk-pinguinus-impennis on 03/10/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 03/10/2023.