Family Auks (Alcidae)

Least Concern

Little Auk (Alle alle)


French: Mergule nain German: Krabbentaucher Spanish: Mérgulo atlántico
Other common names: Dovekie

Alca Alle


, 1758,



Normally treated as polytypic, but evidence incomplete and further examination required; subspecific status of populations breeding in Severnaya Zemlya, New Siberian Is and Bering Sea uncertain. There are significant size differences between races, but no genetic differences at either mitochondrial DNA or at microsatellite loci#R. Two subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • A. a. alle (Linnaeus, 1758) – E Baffin I through Greenland and Iceland to Jan Mayen, Spitsbergen, Bear I and Novaya Zemlya.
  • A. a. polaris Stenhouse, 1930 – Franz Josef Land, and possibly this race in region from Severnaya Zemlya E to Bering Sea (Little Diomede, and perhaps St Lawrence, King, St Matthew and Pribilof Is).
  • Winters mainly in low Arctic waters from Grand Banks of Newfoundland E across N Atlantic to N Norway; also regularly in boreal zone S over Scotian Shelf and Gulf of Maine E to N Scotland and North Sea, rarely farther S.

    Descriptive notes

    17–20 cm; 163 g (140–192 g); wingspan 34–48 cm. Rather distinctive small, compact, chubby auk with short, stubby black bill and black iris; glossy black... read more


    Generally silent at sea. At breeding colonies quite vocal. Commonest vocalization a rolling rattle... read more


    Mainly high Arctic, breeding in large colonies on sea coasts, usually in crevices in rock scree of... read more

    Food and feeding

    Feeds mainly on small invertebrates, especially copepods, amphipods and euphausiids, less frequently decapods and gastropods; also fish... read more


    Spring arrival at colony is variable, from late Feb to early Mar at Franz Josef Land, early Apr in Spitsbergen, and early May in NW... read more


    Most northerly of Atlantic auks. Mobile, undertaking migrations of substantial length. Abandons... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Believed to be the most abundant Atlantic auk, with most colonies situated in remote and inaccessible regions at high latitudes.... read more

    Recommended citation

    Nettleship, D.N., Garcia, E.F.J. & Boesman, P. (2020). Little Auk (Alle alle). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 1 April 2020).