Photo: Arthur Morris/Vireo

Least Auklet

Aethia pusilla

The tiniest member of the auk family, no bigger than a sparrow. Abundant around islands in Bering Sea, where scores at a time can be seen perched on rock piles above the beach, chirping and chirring. Sometimes in huge flocks, winging low over the waves on very rapid beats of its small wings, or circling in the air near nesting colonies. Least Auklets are oddly variable in the pattern of their underparts, which can be anything from white to spotted to solid dark gray.
Conservation status Abundant, with North American population estimated at 9 million in late 1980s. Accurate counts very difficult, however, so trends in numbers hard to detect. Many populations have disappeared or declined after introduction of foxes or rats to their islands. Accidental introduction of rats to additional islands may be single greatest threat.
Family Auks, Murres, Puffins
Habitat Ocean, northern islands. May forage close to shore or far out at sea. Favors areas with turbulent water, upwellings, strong gradients of water temperature or salinity, edges of currents, or tide rips. Nests on islands in boulder fields, talus slopes, lava flows, rock crevices.
The tiniest member of the auk family, no bigger than a sparrow. Abundant around islands in Bering Sea, where scores at a time can be seen perched on rock piles above the beach, chirping and chirring. Sometimes in huge flocks, winging low over the waves on very rapid beats of its small wings, or circling in the air near nesting colonies. Least Auklets are oddly variable in the pattern of their underparts, which can be anything from white to spotted to solid dark gray.
Photo Gallery
  • breeding adults
  • breeding adults
Feeding Behavior

Forages while swimming underwater. Fast and agile underwater but probably not able to dive very deep.


Eggs

One. White, becoming nest-stained. Incubation is by both sexes, 25-39 days, usually about 30 days. Young: Both parents feed young, bringing food to nest in throat pouch. Young develops faster than young of most auks, leaves nest 25-33 days after hatching.


Young

Both parents feed young, bringing food to nest in throat pouch. Young develops faster than young of most auks, leaves nest 25-33 days after hatching.

Diet

Crustaceans and other marine invertebrates. Diet in summer is small creatures that occur in swarms in cold waters, mostly very small crustaceans known as calanoid copepods, also some euphausiid shrimp, amphipods, others. Diet at other seasons not well known.


Nesting

First breeds at age of 3 years. In courtship, male perches upright and makes chattering calls; female approaches in exaggerated stretching and crouching postures, then both birds engage in bill-touching and chattering in duet. Pair-bond often lasts more than one season. Nest: In colonies located in talus slopes, rock piles, other areas with abundant small rock crevices for nest sites. No nest built, egg laid on bare rock, soil, or pebbles. Pair may re-use nest site for several years.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Birds from northernmost colonies move south to evade the solid ice that surrounds their colony sites in winter. Those from Pribilof and Aleutian islands may be permanent residents in general region of colonies. Very rare stray as far south as British Columbia and Washington.

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Migration

Birds from northernmost colonies move south to evade the solid ice that surrounds their colony sites in winter. Those from Pribilof and Aleutian islands may be permanent residents in general region of colonies. Very rare stray as far south as British Columbia and Washington.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Various twittering notes around breeding colonies.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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