There once was a bird...


In Charles Kingsley's 'The Water Babies' 1863, the last 
Great Auk - the Gairfowl - stands 'on the Allalonestone, all alone'. 
Illustration is by A. E. Jackson

The Great Auk/Gairfowl was a flightless bird of the alcid family that 
became extinct in the mid-19th century. When not breeding, the auks spent 
their time foraging in the waters of the North Atlantic, ranging as far south as 
northern Spain and also around the coast of Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the 
Faroe Islands, Norway, Ireland, and Great Britain. Although agile in the water, 
it was clumsy on land. Great Auk pairs mated for life. They nested in extremely 
dense and social colonies, laying one egg on bare rock. The last pair, 
found incubating an egg, was killed on Iceland on 3 July 1844 


Great Auk (Pinguinis impennis) specimen (Bird no. 8, the Glasgow Auk) 
and replica egg, Kelvingrove, Glasgow. A lost part of the biogeography of Britain, 
and the only flightless bird that has bred in Europe in historical times. The last Great 
Auk in Britain was killed on Stac-an-Armin, St Kilda, in about 1840 and 
the last pair seen alive in the world was caught and throttled 
on the island of Eldey, Iceland, in 1844


 Photograph of Eldey, Iceland last refuge of the Great Auk


Great Auks by John Gerrard Keulemans and commissioned 
by the 19th century ornithological writer H.E. Dresser, ca. 1900


This image was illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith: 
'And there he saw the last of the gairfowl'. 
From 'The Water Babies', 1916


Summer (standing) and winter (swimming) plumage.


'There he saw the last of the Gairfowl, standing up on 
the Allalonestone, all alone" from 'Water Babies, A Fairy Tale 
for a Land Baby' by Charles Kingsley, 1909


Only known illustration of a Great Auk drawn from life, 
Ole Worm's pet received from the Faroe Islands, 1655

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