"My cousin Arnold had a great auk once called Beany"
Plate 341 of Birds of America by John James Audubon depicting Great Auk
Public DomainPlate 341 of Birds of America by John James Audubon depicting Great Auk - Credit: Jean-Jacques-Fougère Audubon

The Great Auk lived in the North Atlantic. They were sea birds that came ashore to breed, nesting on rocky shores in large colonies.  The birds mated for life. The female bird laid a single egg, and both parents would care for the offspring. Great Auks had no defences against their major predator, man, and  were killed in great numbers for food, feathers and as collectables. As they became more rare, they became more valuable, despite laws put in place to try to stop their extinction. The last Great Auk in Britain was shot in 1813. The last Great Auk sighting was recorded in Iceland in the middle of the 19th Century.

Great Auk monument: This cairn was built in 1988 by Junior Members of Orkney Field Club To promote care and conservation of our living world
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeGreat Auk monument: This cairn was built in 1988 by Junior Members of Orkney Field Club To promote care and conservation of our living world - Credit: Bruce McAdam
The extinction of the Great Auk is stark example of how species that are taken for granted can be lost forever. The monument in this picture was built in 1988 to promote awareness of conservation. In 2011, the author Margaret Atwood, knitted a Great Auk as her contribution to “The Ghosts of Birds Gone Exhibition,” which was designed to make people aware of birds that run the risk of extinction.