great auk

(redirected from Alca impennis)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.


auk (ôk), common name for a member of the family Alcidae (alcid family), swimming and diving birds of the N Atlantic and Pacific, which includes the guillemots and puffins. Their legs are set far back on their bodies, making them clumsy on land, where they seldom venture except to nest. The extinct, flightless great auk, Pinguinus impennis, or garefowl, represents the largest species. It was about the size of a goose, black above and grayish white below, and was formerly abundant in the N Atlantic. Slaughtered in its breeding grounds for its flesh, feathers, and oil, it became extinct c.1844. The least auklet (about 61-2 in./16.3 cm), common in the Bering Sea region, is the smallest of the family, and the razor-billed auk, Alca torda (16–18 in./40–45 cm), is the largest surviving member. The Eskimos hunt the dovekie (Plautus alle), or little auk, for food and use its feathered skin for clothing. Auks return to the same breeding grounds every year, and each individual goes to the very same nesting site. The single egg is laid on bare rock on cliff ledges, and incubation duties are shared by both parents. Auks are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Charadriiformes, family Alcidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Great Auk


(Pinguinus impennis), extinct flightless bird of the Alcidae family, close to the modern auk. Its body was up to 70 cm long; its wings were small and well-suited to paddling under water. It fed on fish.

The auk inhabited the Atlantic coast of Europe, North America, and Iceland. In the winter it apparently reached Florida and the Mediterranean Sea. It was hunted for its palatable meat, and in the 19th century it was completely destroyed. The last pair of great auks was killed in 1844 on the island of Elde, near Iceland.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

great auk

hunters killed such large numbers, these birds became extinct in 1840s. [Ecology: Hammond, 290]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

great auk

a large flightless auk, Pinguinus impennis, extinct since the middle of the 19th century
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005