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.



Print Sponsor


SEE ALSO
Revival of threatened crossbill
28 May 09 |  Highlands and Islands
Cuckoo's call becomes rarer in UK
27 May 09 |  Science & Environment
Flight of Scotland's garden birds
25 Mar 09 |  Scotland
Extinct bird's egg goes on show
16 May 08 |  Merseyside
Extinction threat to Scots bird
15 Jan 08 |  Scotland
School dig turns up extinct bird
31 Aug 07 |  England
'Accent' confirms unique species
15 Aug 06 |  Highlands and Islands

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific