Parakeet Auklet

Common Name: Parakeet Auklet

Scientific Name: Aethia psittacula


Parakeet Auklets are in the family of birds known as the Alcidae which are commonly referred to as the auks. The Alcidae family consists of murres, puffins, murrelets, and other auks. All of the birds in this family are characterized by their ability to fly through the air as well as dive underwater using their wings to swim. Like all seabirds, Parakeet Auklets spend most of their lives at sea, coming to land only to breed and raise young. They breed sometimes in huge numbers on coastal headlands and islands throughout Alaska and Asia. Parakeet Auklets got their name because of their unusually shaped bill, which is almost round like that of a parrot.

This unique bill shape helps them to feed on their favorite foods of slimy jellyfish and zooplankton. Since jellyfish are relatively slow moving, Parakeet Auklets do not need to swim as fast or dive as deep as other alcids that feed on small fish. When they come to land to breed, they scramble around quite well, despite their large webbed feet and pot-bellied appearance. Auklet breeding colonies are noisy affairs as thousands of males screech and 'whinny' to advertise their presence. They usually nest in the crevices of rocks or under the shelter of boulders, but they are very capable of digging burrows in the soil to nest in. There they lay a single white egg that is incubated by both parents. The chick stays in the nest site until fully grown, where it waits for its parents to return from sea with food. When the chick has grown enough to fly, it leaves its crevice at night and flies out to sea. Its parents stop taking care of it once it leaves the nest and so it must quickly learn to swim and find food on its own.

Identification Tips

  • Length: 7.25 inches
  • Sexes similar
  • Small alcid that dives for food from water surface
  • Thick, short, upturned, bright red bill
  • Yellow eye
  • Pelagic bird only coming ashore to breed
  • United States range mostly confined to Alaska, stray elsewhere

Adult Blternate

  • White plume behind eye
  • Blackish head, neck, and upperparts
  • White belly, and undertail coverts

Adult Basic

  • Blackish head, nape, and upperparts
  • White throat, breast, belly, and undertail coverts
  • Bill darker

Similar Species

The Parakeet Auklet's bright red bill distinguishes it from all alcids except Crested and Whiskered Auklets. These species have dark bellies, crests, and different bill shapes. In winter, the short, thick bill (sometimes bright red) is a useful field mark. Crested, Whiskered, and Rhinoceros Auklets have somewhat similar bill shapes but all have dark, not white, throats and breasts.

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