Auks and Murres General
Auks and murres were eaten by many Indigenous Peoples and reported to be a favoured traditional food wherever present across the Arctic [11, 12]. Many types of auks and murres were harvested, with location determining which species was consumed by a given culture. In summertime, auks and murres were important to the diet of Canadian Inuit and St. Lawrence Island Yupik [13, 14]. Auks and Murres were also a popular food bird in Southern British Columbia and the North [11, 15]. Inuit hunted murre long into fall to prepare for times of scarcity . Beothuk of Newfoundland also reportedly ate murre in winter and spring .
Some Arctic hunters hunted murres with nets on high cliff rookeries. A man would lower himself down the side of the cliff, or attempt to climb up to reach the nests . A net, attached to the end of a long stick, was used for catching auks and murres. Hunters were reported to hide along a cliff and sweep a net upward into the flock of approaching birds. A skilled hunter could catch a thousand birds in one day using this method. Auks and murres were also shot in spring and fall when they migrated, and in summer when they were breeding. In July, auk and murres could be netted at their breeding colonies. Fermenting was a favourite way of preserving auks and murres: over one hundred freshly killed birds could be stuffed into a sealskin bag and hidden under a pile of rocks for several months. When removed, the feathers were brushed off and the fermented meat was consumed. Eviscerated carcasses were sometimes dried and hung with fish to save for winter eating . The skins of auks and murres were also highly regarded, and used in Alaska, among other areas, to make coats .
The Black Guillemot, also known by some cultures as pigeon or little sea pigeon, was an important summer food across the Arctic. Greenland Inuit and Wainwright Inupiat reportedly hunted Black Guillemot from spring to fall [5, 17]. Greenland Inuit hunted Black Guillemot July and August . Inuit would hunt Black Guillemot when it returned to northern Labrador in early spring [18, 19]. Flocks would also stop in Labrador during late fall migration; this was the time when Inuit obtained the largest numbers .
Black Guillemots were captured using bird darts and throwing boards, snares, bows and arrows, bolas and nets . Northern hunters used a bird dart adorned with points and sharp prongs and a throwing board to launch the dart. Bag nets were used by Inuit on the sides of cliffs. West Greenlanders caught guillemot in nets stretched above the water’s surface. Also used was the bola, which consisted of heavy balls made of walrus ivory or antler; each ball was attached to a string whose ends were tied together. The hunter launched the bola at an oncoming flock; the bola wrapped around a bird, causing it to fall to the ground . Black guillemot was also caught with nets in winter .
Black Guillemots were abundant in winter for Wainwright Inupiat. These birds are unafraid of humans, making them easy targets for shooting. Hunters would often use a small retrieval boat or a snag hook to gather up the shot birds. In summer, Inupiat would attract guillemot by imitating their wheezing calls. Guillemot was also trapped in nets submerged in the water. The birds would come to investigate a piece of ice, thrown into the water. Once close, the hunter would frighten them, causing the flock to dive into the water and into the net waiting below .
Black Guillemots were important to Clyde Inuit when a harsh freeze disturbed the sea mammal hunt . In January and February, when sea mammal hunting was poor for Labrador Inuit, the Black Guillemot was of greater importance . This bird was hunted with bird darts and nets. The trappings were kept for wintertime, when game was scarce . Among Belcher Island Inuit, adults often preferred young guillemot chicks .
Clyde Inuit reportedly consumed the entire bird raw or boiled .
Black Guillemot eggs were collected from high cliffs by Inuit men, who would lower themselves to the nesting areas using leather ropes .
Uses other than food
Clyde Inuit removed the unplucked skin and used it as a rag or gave it to children to be used as a toy. The legs also were used as toys by children . In the Arctic, guillemot skins were used to make clothing such as coats and rugs; dried wing tendons were used for sewing [5, 11].
Common Murres, known locally as turres, were eaten in winter by Labrador Inuit [19, 20]. Birds were found near large bodies of water, where the flocks fed. After a storm, they were found on land, where they had come seeking shelter [18, 20].
Among the Coast Salish, individual bands owned Common Murre nesting-colonies. The bands would harvest the birds and the eggs during breeding season. The meat and eggs were eaten as well as traded . The Haida and Tlingit of Southeast Alaska would make trips to the Forrester Islands in spring and summer to hunt for Common Murres . The Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) were also known to eat Common Murre .
Dovekie, also known as little auk, bull-bird and ice bird, was reported to have been eaten by many northern cultures including Inuit, neo-Eskimo Thule (Inuit) and Micmac (Mi'kmaq) [5, 12, 19]. Dovekie visited the Labrador coast in winter, providing a feast for coastal Inuit. A hunter would search for Dovekie near open water where they fed. After heavy storms, Dovekie flocks could be found on land, where the birds found shelter . Micmac of Conne River, Newfoundland, are reported to have hunted Dovekie in early winter . Inuit stored Dovekie meat in permafrost pits immediately after the hunt. Sometimes the meat was dried and fermented slightly for eating .
In summertime, Dovekie was a main staple for the few months of sea mammal scarcity in northwest Greenland . Greenland Inuit caught Dovekie during the nesting season using nets made of leather netting attached to a wooden circular frame and a wood handle. Dovekie were also eaten in the winter months, January and February, when food was scarce . Greenland Inuit usually consumed Dovekie raw (fresh or frozen); however sometimes these birds were fermented or dried and boiled in a soapstone pot or in an iron kettle. Dovekie was a common figure in Arctic legends .
Thick-billed Murres were a popular game bird in the North . Greenland Inuit and Wainwright Inupiat reportedly hunted Thick-billed Murre from spring to fall [5, 17]. Thick-billed Murres were important to Clyde Inuit when a harsh freeze disturbed the sea mammal hunt  and were eaten on occasion by Labrador Inuit [19, 20]. Arctic hunters are reported to have trapped Thick-billed Murres with a net attached to a long stick. The hunter would steady himself along a cliff and sweep his net upwards, into a flock of oncoming birds. In a single day, a skilled hunter was reported to obtain a thousand birds . Thick-billed Murre eggs were the eggs of choice in Southwestern Greenland . Wainwright Inupiat hunted Thick-billed Murre in spring and early summer when the birds were abundant. The birds fly side-by-side high up in the sky, making them difficult to shoot. Hunters would shoot the birds as they glided downwards to land. The loud whistling wings of the murre warn hunters of their presence. The birds are unafraid of humans and are easily approached by hunters on foot or in boats; however they are very hardy and dive into the water, even when wounded. When the birds were abundant, they were used for dog food. In fact, the murre was not considered very tasty, and was not eaten often, but was used as emergency food when a cold spell disturbed the hunt for sea mammals . Clyde Inuit ate the entire bird boiled or raw . Thick-billed Murres were not plucked, but rather skinned; the skin was used as a rag or given to children as a toy. The legs also were used as toys . Murre skin was especially liked for making parkas .
Pigeon Guillemot eggs were a favourite of the Northern Coast Salish [15, 18]. The Haida and Tlingit would make excursions to the Forrester Islands in Southeast Alaska to collect Pigeon Guillemot eggs in springtime .
Razorbills, also known as tinkers, were hunted by Labrador Inuit with bird darts and nets [19, 20]. The birds were often saved for winter, when game was scarce .
Haida hunted Ancient Murrelet in April . The Haida and Tlingit of Southeast Alaska would make trips to the Forrester Islands in spring and summer to hunt Ancient Murrelets .
The Haida and Southeast Alaskan Tlingit are reported to have hunted Cassin’s Auklet in spring and summer [2, 15].
The Haida and Tlingit of Southeast Alaska would make trips to the Forrester Islands in spring and summer to hunt for Marbled Murrelets . The Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) were also known to eat Marbled Murrelets .
The Crested Auklet is reported to have been eaten by Wainwright Inupiat, primarily in spring and early summer .
The Great Auk was hunted by the Micmac (Mi'kmaq) .
Rhinoceros auklet was frequently eaten by the Haida and Tlingit. They used snares or would attract auklet with bonfires, striking them down when the birds drew close. Sometimes the birds would collide with the hunters’ tent at night: the confused birds were then easily taken when the hunters woke in the morning .
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Auks and Murres General
Auks and murres are part of a diverse seabird family, which also includes puffins, restricted to cold waters of the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, species collectively referred to as auks and murres include: Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle), Thick-billed Murre (Uria lomvia), Dovekie (Alle alle), Common Murre (Uria aalge), Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata), Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba), Crested Auklet (Aethia cristatella), Cassin’s Auklet (Ptychoramphus aleuticus), Razorbill (Alca torda), Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis), Ancient Murrelet (Synthliboramphus antiquus), and Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus).
Like other seabirds, they spend the bulk of their lives at sea, but must return on land to breed. They are well-adapted for swimming and diving with their compact, streamlined body, short wings, very short tail, and their webbed feet placed far back on the body. They are all agile underwater, propelling themselves with their wings to pursue underwater prey, which include crustaceans, molluscs, and fish. Most are awkward on land and fly with rapid wing-beats steering with their feet and rarely gliding or soaring.
Auks and murres are highly gregarious during the breeding season, gathering in large colonies generally on rocky islands that offer protection from predators while being close to foraging areas. Most species form monogamous pairs and go through an extensive vocal and visual courtship. Most auks lay eggs in burrows or rock crevices, while murres nest in the open. Auks and murres first breed late in life, generally after their third year, and both parents are involved with incubation and feeding the young .
Canada supports important populations of auks and murres, including more than two million Thick-billed Murres in the eastern Arctic and more than 1.5 million Cassin’s Auklets, more than half of which breed in one colony, on tiny Triangle Island, British Columbia. The coast of British Columbia supports more than half the world population of Ancient Murrelets, Cassin’s Auklets, and Rhinoceros Auklets .
The Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle) is a seabird occurring along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Labrador and the eastern Arctic, as well as the coast of northern Yukon and Alaska. Black Guillemots are in the same family as auks and murres and are closely related to the Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba), which they resemble. Both guillemots weigh between 320 and 485 g, have a black bill, and a black breeding plumage with white wing patches. However, the oval white wing-patches of adults (and white wing-patches with black markings in immature birds) distinguish Black Guillemots from Pigeon Guillemots and other similar species. Like other guillemots, Black Guillemots lay two eggs, rather than the one typically laid by most auks and murres, and usually forage on fish and invertebrates in shallow water rather than the open ocean .
The Common Murre (Uria aalge) is a seabird occurring along both North American coasts. They are in the same family as other auks and murres and are closely related to the Thick-billed Murre (Uria lomvia). They are as large as the Thick-billed Murre, weighing betweem 0.8 and 1.1 kg, and have a long, thin, pointed, black bill with no white line, black upperparts, and white underparts including a rounded white rise from the chest to the throat. They prefer water less than 30 m deep and often occur further inshore than Thick-billed Murres, but can dive up to 100 m deep. They gather in large nesting colonies on sloping islands with rocky cliffs, form long-lasting monogamous pairs, and lay only one egg per breeding season. Birds of prey, foxes, and gulls are important predators. Over one million Common Murres breed in eastern North America and at least four million breed in western North America .
The Dovekie (Alle alle) is the smallest member of the auk and murre family present in the northwestern Atlantic. Dovekies have a very restricted North American breeding range with only a few nesting colonies in the Canadian Arctic and in the Bering Strait. They are small, weighing between 130 and 200 g, with a compact body, a very short, stubby, black bill, black upperparts including the head, neck, and upper breast, and white underparts. They nest close to shore in boulder scree crevices along steep cliffs, but are otherwise most often found offshore. They form long-lasting, monogamous pairs and lay only one egg per breeding season. Gulls and arctic foxes are important predators and there are fewer than 2,000 Dovekies breeding in North America .
The Thick-billed Murre (Uria lomvia) is a seabird present along most coastlines of northern North America. They are in the same family as other auks and murres and are closely related to the Common Murre (Uria aalge). Thick-billed Murres are large and stocky, like Common Murres, weigh around 1 kg, and have a short, thick, curved, black bill with a white line. Overall, Thick-billed Murres have black upperparts and white underparts, including a sharp white peak rising from the chest to the throat. They prefer water more than 30 m deep and often occur further offshore than Common Murres. Thick-billed Murres gather in large breeding colonies most often nesting in the open on bare cliff ledges, form long-lasting monogamous pairs, and lay only one egg per breeding season. They feed primarily on schooling fishes, like smelts, but also feed on crustaceans and squids. Predation on adult birds is rare, mostly from birds of prey or walruses, but eggs are often taken by gulls and ravens. Thick-billed Murres can live for over 20 years and more than two million individuals breed in eastern Canada .
The Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba) is a seabird occurring along the North American Pacific coast. They are in the same family as other auks and murres and are closely related to the Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle), which they resemble. Both species weigh between 450 and 550 g, have a black bill and an entirely black breeding plumage, except for white wing patches. However, the Pigeon Guillemot has a black bar running into the white wing patch that distinguishes it from the Black Guillemot’s oval white wing patches. Unlike most other auks and murres, Pigeon Guillemots nest in small colonies or as individual breeding pairs. The breeding population of Pigeon Guillemots in North America is estimated to exceed 70,000 birds .
The Razorbill (Alca torda) is a seabird present in the northwest Atlantic that breeds from the Hudson Strait, south through the Canadian Maritime provinces, to Maine. They are a large seabird, in the same family as other auks and murres, weighing between 500 and 890 g, with black upperparts and white underparts rising into a sharp point on the throat. Razorbills are mostly closely related to Common Murres and Thick-billed Murres. Similar to these species, they raise one offspring that is smaller and less feathered at the point of nest departure than most other seabirds. Razorbills have a large head and a heavy, arched bill marked with a vertical white line at the tip and a horizontal white line running from the base to the eye. Razorbills occur in small (typically less than one thousand pairs), scattered breeding colonies, do not begin breeding until 4 or 5 years of age, form long-lasting monogamous pairs, and can live up to 40 years. There are around 40,000 breeding pairs of Razorbill in eastern North America .
The Ancient Murrelet (Synthliboramphus antiquus) is a seabird occurring along the Pacific coast, with around half a million breeding birds in British Columbia alone. They are a small member of the same family as other auks and murres, weighing betweeb 180 and 250 g, and have a short pointed bill, dark gray upperparts, and white underparts extending into a half collar. They are the only seabird to rear their young entirely at sea; two, equal-sized eggs are laid in a shallow burrow and hatched chicks are not fed until they depart for the sea, 1-3 days after hatching. Ancient Murrelets feed on a combination of small fish and shellfish, mostly in offshore waters, and feed chicks at sea for at least one month after hatching .
The Cassin’s Auklet (Ptychoramphus aleuticus) is an abundant seabird occurring along the North American Pacific coast from Alaska to Mexico, with an estimated population of over 3.5 million breeding birds. They are a small seabird, in the same family as other auks and murres, weighing between 150 and 200 g, with dark gray upperparts fading into light gray underparts, a white eyebrow, a white spot under their black bill, and blue feet and legs. Cassin’s Auklets feed primarily on small fish and shellfish, often while gathered in large flocks. Similar to Crested and Least Auklets, Cassin’s Auklets transport captured food to the nest in a specialized throat pouch .
The marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) is a seabird occurring along the Pacific coast, with around half a million birds across their North American range. They are a small member of the auk and murre family, weighing between 190 and 270 g, with blackish brown upperparts and mottled brown to gray underparts extending to the bill. Unlike other auks and murres, they most often nest in trees of old coastal forests .
The Crested Auklet (Aethia cristatella) is a seabird with a small North American range, limited to the North Pacific and Bering Sea along the Alaskan coast. They are a small member of the auk and murre family, weighing between 180 and 320 g, with dark gray plumage and a large, short, stubby bill. During the summer, their bill turns bright orange and long forward-curving feathers on the foreheads of males and females form a conspicuous crest. Males and females compete aggressively for mates and nest sites, with crest-size correlated to dominance and both sexes preferring large crested partners. Breeding colonies are located on sea-facing cliffs and nesting occurs in rock crevices. Huge flocks of Crested Auklets occasionally take off from the colony, circling high above the ocean, in an impressive display. Like most other auks and murres, only one egg is laid and both males and females incubate .
The Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis) was a flightless seabird that went extinct in the 19th century. Great Auks, most closely related to and resembling Razorbills, weighed about 5 kg and had tiny wings. The Great Auk was the last flightless seabird of the Northern Hemisphere, its ability to fly presumably lost as it evolved a larger body size and a deeper diving foraging style. They were once abundant across the northwest Atlantic, presumably distributed among many small to large breeding colonies. The frequent occurrence of Great Auk remains in archaeological excavations from Newfoundland and Europe demonstrate it successfully coexisted with humans for thousands of years. But a shift and expansion of harvest in the in mid-18th century, from traditional harvest for food to commercial harvest for feathers, devastated Great Auk populations. Prior to extinction, Great Auks were reduced to only a few, large colonies in northeastern North America including Funk Island, east of Newfoundland, and the Magdalen Island, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence .
The Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) is a seabird restricted to the North American Pacific coast. They are a medium-sized member of the auk and murre family, closely related to puffins. Their most unique features are two white facial stripes running above and below the eyes and a whitish rhinoceros-like horn at the base of their yellowish-orange bill. The function of the horn-like ornament, which is present only in breeding plumage but similarly-sized in males and females, is unknown. Rhinoceros Auklets feed mainly on schooling fishes, generally located closer to shore than those pursued by puffins, and visit breeding colonies at night. They are the only nocturnal auk that carries fish externally rather than in a throat pouch .
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