original art

Great Auk Summer and Winter plumage by John Gerrard Keulemans

Great Auk Summer and Winter plumage by John Gerrard Keulemans from Wikipedia

 

The Return of the Great Auk

This month scientists announced that it may be possible to use DNA to reintroduce the Great Auk, a bird extinct since the middle of the 19th Century.

The Great Auk was great indeed, standing at over 30 inches.  Get a tape measure.  That is a big bird!

When not making baby Auks, these birds would hunt the North Atlantic, weaving gracefully through the water. Unfortunately, on the ground they shared the same failings as the Dodo; they couldn’t fly, they couldn’t run very fast and they were damned tasty.

The Great Auk is no more.

The last pair were killed in 1844 on an island near Iceland but a reliable sighting was reported in 1952 of a single bird off Newfoundland.  Great Auks mated for life, and the thought of a solitary bird is especially sad.

I recently finished a set of Warwick Goble illustrations from Charles Kingsley’s ‘The Water-Babies – A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby’.  Mr Goble’s illustration below must undoubtedly be based on the last Great Auk, his ‘last Gairfowl’ sitting on the ‘Allalonestone’, all alone.

There he saw the last of the Gairfowl original by Warwick Goble

There he saw the last of the Gairfowl original by Warwick Goble

 

The announcement then is amazing news; the word ‘extinct’ may no longer mean ‘gone for ever’.  That these impressive birds might be living and breeding again in the Farne Islands, (off the coast of Northumberland, England) towering over the Puffins and Razorbills that nest there, is incredibly exciting.

Alca impennis by John Gerrard Keulemans

Alca impennis by John Gerrard Keulemans

 

Pinguinus impennus by John James Audubon

Pinguinus impennus by John James Audubon

 

Great Auk original watercolour by Edward Lear

Great Auk original watercolour by Edward Lear

 

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The Last Gairfowl by Warwick GobleGreat Auk by Edward Lear