[order] Charadriiformes | [family] Alcidae | [latin] Alle alle | [UK] Little Auk | [FR] Mergule nain | [DE] Krabbentaucher | [ES] Mérgulo marino | [IT] Gazza marina minore | [NL] Kleine Alk

Kleine Alk determination

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Little Auk or Dovekie is a tiny auk of northern waters. It is a stocky bird, short-necked when on water. In breeding plumage, adult has black upperparts, head and breast, and white belly. We can see some white edges on black short wings. Underwing is dark. It has small, rounded black tail. Conical bill is stubby and black. Eyes are black with white crescent above. Legs and webbed feet are greyish. In winter plumage, adult has black upperparts, head and face, and black neck collar. Chin, throat and cheeks are dirty white. Underparts and undertail coverts are white. Both sexes are similar, with male slightly larger than female. Juvenile resembles non breeding adult, browner.

Little Auk or Dovekie breeds among screes and on steep slopes. After breeding season, they disperse over polar seas with broken pack-ice. In some winters, they may disperse to south of their range. They are seen inland after severe winter storms.

Alle alle breeds in Greenland, Svalbard, and on the Russian islands of the high Arctic, with Europe accounting for less than a quarter of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is extremely large (>11,000,000 pairs), and was stable between 1970-1990. Although the tiny population off the coast of northern Iceland went extinct during 1990-2000, populations were stable in Svalbard and the Greenland stronghold, and the species probably remained stable overall.

Dovekies are the only completely planktivorous alcid in the Atlantic and have several adaptations for plankton feeding. They have a small, stubby bill that is wide at the base; a soft, agile tongue; tooth-like projections on the roof of their mouths; and a throat pouch for transport of food to their young. To gather the plankton, the Dovekie dives from the surface of the water and propels itself as deep as possible. As the Dovekie moves back towards the surface, it gulps in as much water as can be held, taking plankton in with it. The throat is expandable which allows the bird to take in large amounts of food. The plankton concentrates in cold, surface waters in moderate to heavy offshore pack ice, over banks at sea, and at upwellings and oceanographic fronts.
Feeds on small crustaceans (shrimp) and copepods. Adults carry food back to the young in pouches in their cheeks. Both parents feed the young.

This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 100,000-1,000,000 km². It has a large global population estimated to be 16,000,000-36,000,000 individuals (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Global population trends have not been quantified, but populations appear to be stable (del Hoyo et al. 1996) so the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from birdlife.org]

Little Auk or Dovekie nests in large colonies, in cavities in steep slopes. It nests in rock crevices or under large rocks. Greenland is the main breeding site. Colonies can be found on the coasts or on mountain slopes as far as 30 km inland. Female lays only one egg, on the bare rock or on pebbles, near the end of a passageway. Incubation lasts about 28 to 31 days, by both parents. Adults feed the young, carrying food in their throat pouches. Young fledge when it is 26 to 30 days old. This species produces only one brood per season.

Most northerly of Atlantic auks. Mobile, undertaking migrations of substantial length. Abandons colonies end Aug. In winter, commonest in W Atlantic on S Grand Banks and shelf edge E of Nova Scotia, but scarce farther S, with distribution limits in E Atlantic less well defined. Two principal migratory patterns known: NW Greenland birds winter off Newfoundland; many from European Arctic winter off SW & (less frequently) SE Greenland, with massive westerly movement past NW Russia in Oct and return in Apr, presumably of birds from Novaya Zemlya, possibly from Severnaya Zemlya. Unlike others,, Franz Josef Land birds appear to winter in BE Barents Sea, close to the breeding archipelago.