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Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 13:20 EDT

Least Auklet

The Least Auklet (Aethia pusilla) is a seabird and the smallest species of auk. It the most abundant seabird in North America, and one of the most abundant in the world, with a population of around nine million birds. They breed on the islands of Alaska and Siberia, and spend the winter close to the edge of the ice sheet. Their largest colonies are on the Aleutian Islands, St. Lawrence Island and Little Diomede Island.

Least Auklets feed mainly on calanoid copepods, particularly those of the genus Neocalanus. They also eat euphausiids, pteropods and other zooplankton species. They hunt for these in stratified waters caused where upwelling and thermoclines cause these prey items to be tightly clumped together. Like all auks they are pursuit divers and use their wings to provide thrust giving them the appearance of flying under the water. They are voracious predators, consuming 86% of their body weight each day.

Least Auklets prefer to nest in colonies of up to a million birds, laying their egg in rocky crevices. These colonies are often mixed, with other species of auklet nesting with, and competing with the Least Auklets. While this coexistance with other species may bring the benefits of protection from predators, Least Auklets are vulnerable to being displaced from their nesting sites by the larger Crested Auklets. A single egg is laid in the crevice and incubated for a month, after which a semi-precocial black downy chick is hatched. Both parents share incubation duties, as well as brooding and feeding duties. Unlike many auks, which are fed fish carried crosswise in the bill, chicks of the Least Auklet are fed copepods and other zooplankton from a sublingual pouch, as are other small auklets. The chicks receive no further care after they fledge, and can dive to hunt as soon as they leave the nest.

Least Auklets are vulnerable to oil spills and introduced species. The introduction of Arctic Foxes to many of the Aleutian Islands caused the species to be wiped out on many of those islands, and rats are also a problem. However at present they are still a very common species.

Least Auklet