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New England Seabirds

Wilson's Storm-petrel Dave Jones


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Alcids Index


Atlantic Puffin



Black Guillemot


Alcids  Atlantic Puffin and Razorbill

Alcids at Machia Seal Island.  Front Atlantic Puffin, Back Razorbill. Photo by EB Tarry

Northern Hemisphere Breeders

The family Alcidae or Auks as they are known in Europe all breed in the Northern Hemisphere. True seabirds they come to land to breed most in large or small colonies and then disburse to the open ocean for most of their lives.

Since 16 species breed in the North Pacific around the Bering Sea, this area is most likely the original ancestral home. (Freethy 1987)

Alcids use their wings to both swim and fly and they are good divers and swimmers. Smaller, more stream line wings facilitate swimming but this requires them to fly with rapid wing beats.

Alcids are not scavengers and are not attracted to boats by chumming. Larger Alcids feed on fish while the smaller species feed on plankton.

Smaller Alcids including the Dovekie are preyed upon by gulls. To see Alcids from a pelagic trip avoid attracting gulls to the boat with popcorn or stale bread.

How To See

We see them as pelagics in winter plumage from late fall to early spring. Six species are found in the north Atlantic. Two are restricted to the Atlantic: Razorbills and Atlantic Puffin. Two more are easier to see on the Atlantic side: Black Guillemot and Dovekie. These four species are considered New England specialties.

All of the Atlantic Alcids except the Dovekie, breed in Maine and further north. It is very easy to visit breeding colonies in Maine, Nova Scotia, Gaspe Penincula of Canada, New Foundland. Dovekies called Little Auks in Europe breed in Greeland, Iceland and north of Canada and Europe.

Dovekies have been breeding on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska in the Berring Sea for some 35 years. Some lucky birders have made a trip to Gambel and have seen Dovekie in breeding plumage. The webmaster was not so lucky. The year I made the trip to Gambel there was a late snow and no Dovekies.

With opening of the North west passage more birds may be established on both sides of North America.

Alcids fly in straight line  Leonard Medlock

Alcids tend to fly and swim in lines. as shown In this Leonard Medlock photo of Razorbills. Sibley(2000)

Lines of Razorbills  flying offshore is a common sight in winter from the Parker River Wildlife Refuge or almost anywhere along the New England coast including Andrews Point. 

Seabirds | Alcids | Puffin | Razorbill | Murres | Dovekie | Black Guillemot    Top of Page

          Comments to Webmaster  

           Freethy, Ron (1987 Auks An Ornithologist’s Guide Facts On File Publications NY


         Sibley, David (2000) The Sibley Guide to Birds Alfred A. Knopf, New York