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a family of birds of the order Charadriiformes. There are 13 genera, comprising 20 or 22 extant species. The most common genera are Uria, Alca, Aethia, Alle, Brachyramphus, Lunda, Fratercula, and Cepphus. One species, the great auk (Pinguinnus impennis), became extinct in the mid-19th century. Alcids are typical seabirds, going ashore only to mate and lay eggs. The birds are common along the seas of the moderate and cold latitudes of the northern hemisphere. They are excellent swimmers and divers; they propel themselves underwater with their wings. Alcids feed only on marine organisms—small fish and various invertebrates, including crustaceans and mollusks. The birds usually nest in colonies along seashores; many species, along with gulls, constitute the main residents of bird rookeries. The eggs are usually laid in crevices of cliffs or among rocks. Murres (Uria) breed on open rocky ledges, and Atlantic puffins (Fratercula) and tufted puffins (Lunda) burrow in loose soil. A clutch contains one or two large eggs, weighing more than 10 percent of the female’s weight. Both parents incubate the eggs (24 to 35 days) and feed the young. The young are born sighted and covered with dense down. In some parts of the world alcids are commercially valued for their down, feathers, meat, and eggs.
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N. N. KARTASHEV