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Least Auklet

Aethia pusilla

Length: 6.25 inches Wingspan: 12 inches Seasonality: Non-resident in South Dakota
ID Keys: Small size, small dark conical bill with red tip, dark upperparts, white underparts, breeding birds with variable dark markings on white underparts

Least Auklet - Aethia pusillaThe Least Auklet is the smallest of the auk family, as they are no bigger than a typical songbird.  They are very common in many areas near the Aleutians and islands in the Bering Sea, and are often considered the most abundant seabird in North America.  Near breeding colonies, very large, flocks can often be seen whirling in the sky.  Non-breeding birds show white plumage on their underparts, but during the breeding season, Least Auklets display a continuum of plumage colors on their bellies, from white, to white with dark spotting, to a solid dark grayish-black. 

Habitat: Nests on rocky islands in the far north Pacific. Outside of the breeding season, they can be found at sea, anywhere from close to shore to far out to sea.

Diet: Feeds on small crustaceans such as copepods and shrimp, as well as small amphipods and other small sea creatures.

Behavior: Feeds by swimming underwater.  Given smaller size, they likely are unable to dive as deep as other, larger Alcids.  Very gregarious, they form large breeding colonies, often in conjunction with Crested Auklets.

Nesting: No nest is built, the female lays a single egg directly on the ground.  Nesting occurs on rocky slopes with abundant crevices and crannies.  Both parents help to incubate the egg, and both parents help tend to the youngster when the egg hatches.

Song: On their breeding grounds, they have a variety of calls, including high-pitched trilling calls, thin chattery calls, and squeaky grating calls.  They are silent away from their breeding colonies.

Migration: Birds breeding in and around areas that stay ice-free all year are generally permanent residents, often staying in the vicinity of breeding colonies.  Birds breeding on Bering Sea islands where ice forms in the winter move south, with most overwintering in the vicinity of the Aleutians.  They are only very rare strays further south, but they have been found as far south as Washington state.

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

Similar Species: Not likely to be confused with other Auklet species if seen well, but possibly confused with some murrelet species at range.

Conservation Status: The Least Auklet is very common in much of its range, and although population declines have been noted, they are currently not in serious danger.  The IUCN lists the Least Auklet as a species of "Least Concern".

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

2) WhatBird - Least Auklet

3) Audubon Guide - Least Auklet

Photo Information: Photo is public domain image from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


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

Additional Least Auklet Photos (coming soon!!)