Great auk facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
The great auk
Great auk by GE Lodge
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Alcidae
Genus: Pinguinus
Bonnaterre, 1791
Binomial name
Pinguinus impennis
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The great auk was a large bird, that could not fly. People hunted it for meat and feathers. It grew rare, because it was too easy to kill, and the ones left could not breed fast enough to make up for the lost ones. The last known great auks (there were two auks) were killed on June 3, 1844 in Iceland. It lived mostly in the water, like a duck.

Penguins got their name from the great auk. The word "penguin" was the Celtic word for "great auk". When sailors saw penguins for the first time, they thought they looked like great auks.

The great auk was covered in black feathers, but had white feathers on its chest and abdomen. It had very short wings, like stubs, which meant it could not fly. On land it stood upright and was about 75 cm tall. They spent most of their time at sea, coming to shore in the summer to breed. They lived in large breeding colonies on low rocky islands in the north Atlantic Ocean from Canada to Norway. Females laid one egg on bare rock. In winter they went as far south as Florida and southern Spain.

Children's books

The great auk is one of the more frequently referenced extinct birds in literature, much as the famous Dodo. It appears in many works of children's literature.

Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby depicts a great auk telling the tale of the extinction of its species. (In this image, Kingsley's artist played with or misunderstood the words "large pair of white spectacles", intended to mean the natural white patches on the bird's face.)

Enid Blyton's The Island of Adventure, features the bird's extinction, sending the protagonist on a failed search for what he believes is a lost colony of the species.

Images for kids


Great auk Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.