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Puffins Auks and Murres: Alcidae

Behavior And Reproduction

Auks are capable, but not strong, fliers. Most species require a lengthy running start over water before they are able to take to the air. However, all species are very good swimmers and divers. Auks and their relatives use their wings to propel themselves through the water. Their webbed feet, which are stretched out during swimming, act as a rudder and help them change or maintain direction. Some species have been known to reach depths as great as 600 feet (183 meters).

Auks and their relatives are monogamous (muh-NAH-guh-mus), a single male mates with a single female. However, the same mates are not necessarily kept from one breeding season to the next. Many individuals do, however, return to the same nesting site year after year. Eight of the twenty-three auk species mate on the open ocean. Both parents help incubate, or sit on, eggs, and both help feed and protect the young once they hatch. In most species, the female lays only one large egg which may represent 10 to 20 percent of the female's total weight. Chicks are covered with dense down at birth and are able to see. In several species, chicks leave the nest after two or three weeks and go with their fathers to live on the open ocean until they become independent.


Eight species in the auk family mate at sea, an unusual breeding strategy. There are several possible reasons why this may be advantageous. Mating at sea may help auks avoid land predators. It may help male auks avoid competition and interference from other males of the same species. Finally, some biologists believe that female auks may use sea mating to figure out which males are healthiest and strongest, and would therefore make the best mates.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsPuffins Auks and Murres: Alcidae - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, Common Murre (uria Aalge): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, PUFFINS AUKS MURRES AND PEOPLE