Whiskered Auklet

Aethia pygmaea

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 1993
  • G. Vernon Byrd and Jeffrey C. Williams

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Figure 1. Year-round range of the Whiskered Auklet.

See text for details.

Adult Whiskered Auklet, Alaska, June

Breeding (Definitive Alternate) plumage; photographer Ian Jones

The Whiskered Auklet is a small alcid endemic to an arc of volcanic islands formed by the Aleutian, Commander, and Kuril island chains. Distinguished by unique, ornate facial plumes, for which it is named, the Whiskered Auklet is much rarer and less colonial than its abundant congeners the Crested Auklet (Aethia cristatella) and Least Auklet (A. pusilla). It has been less thoroughly studied than most alcids because of its isolated range and secretive, nocturnal behavior at breeding sites. Major sources of original information on this species are: Stejneger (Stejneger 1885b), Kozlova (Kozlova 1961), Byrd and Gibson (Byrd and Gibson 1980), Knudtson and Byrd (Knudtson and Byrd 1982), Day and Byrd (Day and Byrd 1989), Flint and Golovkin (Flint and Golovkin 1990b).

Like other members of its genus, the Whiskered Auklet is probably monogamous and lays a single egg in rock crevices, often in close proximity to other crevice-nesting species. Both sexes share incubation and chick-rearing responsibilities. This species feeds on marine zooplankton, particularly copepods, which are concentrated by convergent currents, often near points of islands. Little is known about its winter distribution, although many individuals remain near breeding islands. Although Feinstein (Feinstein 1959) proposed separate subspecies from the Aleutian and Kuril islands, recent studies suggest simple clinal variation, with measurements increasing from east to west.

Little is known about population levels or trends in this species, but the introduction of foxes (Alopex lagopus and Vulpes vulpes) and rats (Rattus norvegicus) on many of its nesting islands is thought to have reduced numbers.

Recommended Citation

Byrd, G. V. and J. C. Williams (1993). Whiskered Auklet (Aethia pygmaea), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.76