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Whiskered Auklet

Aethia pygmaea

Length: 7.75 inches Wingspan: 14 inches Seasonality: Non-resident in South Dakota
ID Keys: Obvious thin tufted crest feathering, white "whisker" stripe forming V-shape, white stripe behind eye, small orange bill, dark plumage.

Whiskered Auklet - Aethia pygmaeaThe Whiskered Auklet is a bird not often seen by birders, as they have a relatively small population, and can only be found in select areas of the Aleutian Island chain.  They also are not known to wander far from their normal range, as they typically spend most of their lives within several miles of their breeding colonies and other rocky islands of the Aleutians.  Even at their breeding colonies, they are often most active at night, and may not be frequently seen during daylight hours. Despite the small population size and small home range, most birds nest within the borders of the Alaskan Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.  However, populations have still been declining in recent years. Introduced rats and Arctic foxes on their nesting islands have undoubtedly taken a toll, and its thought that nighttime human fishing activity in the region may also negatively impact Whiskered Auklets, as they can be attracted to lights on fishing vessels.

Habitat: Nests on less than a dozen rocky islands Alaska's Aleutian chain.  Outside of nesting, they are typically found in relatively shallow water, within a few miles of islands.

Diet: Feeds on small crustaceans such as copepods, shrimp, and amphipods, as well as mollusks, marine worms, and occasionally other small marine life.

Behavior: Feeds by diving underwater to retrieve prey items at the ocean bottom or in the water column.  Feeding is mostly done in relatively shallow water.

Nesting: The nesting site is on crevices on cliff faces, in cavities on talus slopes, or other rocky areas with protected crevices and nooks.  The Whiskered Auklet doesn't build a nest, but lays its egg directly on the ground.  Only a single egg is laid, which is incubated by both parents.  Both parents also help to feed the youngster after it hatches.

Song: On their breeding colonies, adults can be heard given high-pitched mewing sounds, as well as a crisp series of two-note phrases.  They are silent away from the breeding colony.

Migration: Considered a permanent resident throughout its range, as they only rarely wander away from the general vicinity of their breeding islands in the Aleutian chain.

Interactive eBird map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Whiskered Auklet sightings

Similar Species: Most likely species to be confused with the Whiskered Auklet is the Crested Auklet.

Conservation Status: The IUCN currently lists the Whiskered Auklet as a species of "Least Concern".  However, there are indications the species is in decline, and populations have always been very low compared to other North American alcids.

Further Information: 1) Alaska Seabird Information Series - Whiskered Auklet

2) Audubon Guide - Whiskered Auklet

3) USGS Bird InfoCenter - Whiskered Auklet

Photo Information: Photo is public domain image from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, taken in 1987 at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.


Click below for a higher-resolution map
Whiskered Auklet - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Non-resident in South Dakota

Additional Whiskered Auklet Photos (coming soon!!)