Arctic Species: Little Auk

One of the most numerous bird species, if not the most numerous, is the Little Auk (or Dovekie, for the US readers). It breeds all over the Spitsbergen archipelago but is most common in the western half. They breed on scree slopes in holes between the rocks. Those holes have to be big enough to fit a Little Auk, but small enough to keep Arctic Foxes and other predators out. Larger rocks also make it less likely that the stones will start sliding, crushing the nests with it.

Kleine Alk; Little Auk; Alle alle
Little Auks flying over the scree slopes of their colony

Visiting a colony of Little Auks is often a highlight during a trip to Spitsbergen, for birders and non-birders alike. When you move slowly, they often let you come really close to the rocks where they rest. And every now and then a Glaucous Gull flies overhead or an Arctic Fox will patrols the colony, making all birds that are not on their nest to take wing and fly a few rounds before settling again on their rocks. Really a big spectacle for any visitor.

Little Auks can be quite curious

The thing that amazes most people while visiting a colony, is their constant laughter. Whatever they are doing near the colony, they constantly surround themselves with a sound that can best be described as somebody laughing at you. Something that gives these little birds a very positive feeling around them. One cannot stop and wonder what they are laughing about this time.

Little Auks at the colony

Little Auks feed on tiny copepods, a small planktonic species, which they’ll catch while diving. They can store massive numbers of these little creatures in their craw, which they will bring to their colony to feed their chicks. Every now and then large groups of these small, black and white birds can be seen flying around in the pack ice or high up the mountains.

Little Auks in the pack ice

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.


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