Little Auk

The most numerous bird in the Svalbard archipelago, these fast-growing "sea doves" have colonies that sometimes number in the millions

Antarctic Peninsula

Region: Arctic

Destinations: Svalbard

Name: Little Auk, Dovekie, Sea Dove (Alle alle)

Length: 20 centimetres.

Weight: 140 to 190 grams.

Location: Islands of the high Arctic.

Conservation status: Least Concern.

Diet: Crustaceans, small invertebrates, fish.

Appearance: Black with white belly, small white arc above the eyes.

How do Little Auks feed?

Little Auks are excellent divers, propelling themselves with their wings (as opposed to their feet). Little Auks can dive as far as 30 metres, getting under its prey and then zig-zagging its way back up to catch the fish from underneath.

Are Little Auks social?

Little Auks tend to forage in large flocks. They also create colonies while breeding.

How fast do Little Auks fly?

Little Auks are extremely fast, reaching speeds of up to 70 km per hour. However they are straight-line fliers, and not particular good at coasting or turning.

What are Little Auk birthing rituals like?

A Little Auk’s breeding season depends somewhat on where in the world they are located, but they generally return to their breeding grounds somewhere around April. They reach sexual maturity around 3 years of age and mate until about 8 years of age.

Little Auks spend their life at sea until breeding season, at which point they join large colonies on cliff sides, nesting in crevices, cracks, or beneath rocks. Competition for the best nest sites can be quite fierce, with the dominating bird chasing away other contenders into the air.

The nest itself is made up of pebbles. The female usually only lays one egg. Incubation takes about a month with both parents taking turns keeping the egg warm. Once hatched, the parents will feed the chick for another month, at which point it fledges and becomes able to fend for itself out at sea.

How long do Little Auks live?

Little Auks can live to be up to 25 years of age in the wild.

How many Little Auks are there today?

There are an estimated 30 million individual Little Auks in the world today.

Do Little Auks have any natural predators?

Little Auks are preyed upon by Arctic Foxes and Glaucous Gulls. Polar Bears will eat their eggs if they can find them.

7 Lovely Little Auk Facts

1. The sheer numbers of Little Auks can have a major impact on the areas around their breeding grounds since they transport marine-based nutrient onto land where it is left as guano.

2. Little Auk chicks grow faster than those of any other species of Auk.

3. Little Auks are the most populous form of bird in Svalbard.

4. Little Auk breeding colonies are the largest colonies of any Auk species, some of them numbering in the millions.

5. Little Auks are the only member of the Auk species that has a specialized pouch in its throat which it uses to carry food to nestlings.  

6. Although Auks resemble penguins they are not particularly related. One of the main differences is that all existing species of Auks can fly, though they have to flap their stubby little wings at extremely fast speeds to stay airborne.

7. There are 2 subspecies of Little Auk. Alle alle polaris’ breeding grounds are on Franz Josef Land, while Alle alle alle breeds on Iceland, Greenland, Spitsbergen, and Novaya Zemlya. 

Love this article? Share your appreciation:

Related cruises

Around Spitsbergen
Up to 1850 USD discount

Around Spitsbergen

Full Spitsbergen Circumnavigation

HDS08-19. Take a cruise around Spitsbergen and explore the icy waters of the North Atlantic. This special expedition offers you the chance to catch site of whales, reindeer, Arctic foxes, walruses, seals, and the star attraction, the polar bear.

m/v Hondius

m/v Hondius

Cruise date:

14 Jul - 23 Jul, 2019


7300 USD 5450 USD 1850 USD discount

North (82 Degree) & Around Spitsbergen – Kvitøya
Up to 1800 USD discount

North (82 Degree) & Around Spitsbergen – Kvitøya

Full Spitsbergen Circumnavigation with a visit to Kvitøya

HDS11-19. This cruise around Spitsbergen gives you a great chance to see whales, foxes, reindeer, seals, and polar bears. The expedition will make a landing on the island of Kvitøya, a site of historical significance, and home of a large walrus population.

m/v Hondius

m/v Hondius

Cruise date:

10 Aug - 21 Aug, 2019


9350 USD 7550 USD 1800 USD discount

North Spitsbergen, Arctic Spring - Hike & Sail

Explore the shores and seas of an amazing Arctic island

RVR20-19. At the end of a long Arctic winter, spring is starting to awaken. The climate, however, still clings to the cold: snow-covered mountains, snow-swept shores, temperatures around –4° C (25°F). It’s a good time to experience the last of winter scenery, and with a little luck, also see some polar bears,...

s/v Rembrandt Van Rijn

s/v Rembrandt Van Rijn

Cruise date:

22 May - 29 May, 2019


3300 USD

North Spitsbergen, In search of Polar Bear & Pack Ice

The best opportunity to spot the King of the Arctic

PLA04-19. Start your North Spitsbergen cruise with a trek around historic Longyearbyen, then join our expedition to the north of the island to take in the fantastically beautiful landscapes, the thousands of seabirds, and of course the star of the show, the polar bear.

m/v Plancius

m/v Plancius

Cruise date:

27 May - 3 Jun, 2019


6100 USD

North Spitsbergen, Arctic Summer

Watch for wildlife in iconic Arctic terrain

NOO21-19. The North Spitsbergen cruise sails to some of the remotest locations of northern Europe. The expedition gives you the opportunity to spot historic whaling remains, glaciers, a variety of Arctic birds including the Little Auk, and polar bears.

s/v Noorderlicht

s/v Noorderlicht

Cruise date:

29 May - 8 Jun, 2019


4400 USD