Page last updated at 10:49 GMT, Thursday, 28 May 2009 11:49 UK

Demise of Scotland's 'penguins'

Great auk
The flightless great auk was dubbed a penguin

The great auk ranks among Scotland's best known extinctions.

A large and flightless seabird, it was also known as a penguin and garefowl and was hunted for its oil, feathers and eggs.

In Scotland, the last one was thought to have been caught and killed on the remote island archipelago of St Kilda.

With RSPB warnings over the plight of one in five UK birds, there are worries now other species will go the way of the great auk.

The seabird was a familiar sight to sailors and islanders in the North Atlantic until the mid 1800s.

According to the National Trust for Scotland (the owners of St Kilda), it occasionally visited the island group.

Scots writer Martin Martin wrote of seeing the bird there in his book A Late Voyage to St Kilda 1698.

'A witch'

The islands boast the last recorded sighting of a great auk in the British Isles.

It was made in 1840, when islanders on Stac an Armin suspected it was a witch and the cause of a tremendous storm.

The last breeding pair are believed to have been spotted in 1844 by sailors on a rocky outcrop on the island of Eldey off Iceland.

And the last recorded sighting was in Newfoundland, Canada, in 1852.

Last year, a great auk egg went on display at a museum in Liverpool.

It has been in the World Museum Liverpool's collection since the 1850s but last May's exhibition was the first time it had ever gone on display.

The egg is part of a collection of items bequeathed to the museum in 1852 from the 13th Earl of Derby at Knowsley Hall.

There are believed to be just 75 eggs from the species left in the world.

In 2007, archaeologists discovered the remains of a great auk in a school playing field.

Eleven pieces belonging to the bird were unearthed in Royal Manor Arts College in Portland, Dorset.

The find prompted the school to move the proposed site for a sports pitch by several metres.

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