Aethia – Small auklets

Auklets are among some of the most abundantly observed black and white sea birds

Small auklets are charming seabirds that captivate birdwatchers with their contrasting black and white plumage and oceanic lifestyles. These birds are often found in the cold, nutrient-rich waters of the North Pacific, from the coasts of Alaska to the edges of Russia and Japan.

Auklets are particularly noted for their breeding habits, establishing colonies on inaccessible rocky cliffs and islands where they are less vulnerable to predators. These sites are often chosen for their proximity to the ocean, allowing easy access to their feeding grounds. The parakeet auklet, for instance, is distinguished by its striking yellow-orange bill and the white plume feathers that extend from its eyes, giving the appearance of elaborate eyelashes.

Some auklet species, such as the crested and whiskered auklets, exhibit unique plumage features like crests or ‘whiskers,’ which are tufts of feathers around the face and head. These adornments play a significant role in social interactions and are particularly prominent during the breeding season. The variation in plumage darkness among auklet species may also have adaptive significance related to their specific environments and behaviors.

Despite their small size, auklets are hardy birds. They are well adapted to their marine environment, with compact bodies and wings that are efficient for ‘flying’ underwater in pursuit of their prey, which includes small fish and zooplankton. On the wing, they are capable of swift and agile flight, often traveling considerable distances from their nesting sites to foraging areas.

However, auklets face several threats in the wild. Predation by introduced species like Norway rats and Arctic foxes is a significant concern, especially in breeding colonies where eggs and chicks are vulnerable. These predators can decimate auklet populations on islands where the birds have no natural defenses against them.