The New Student's Reference Work/Auk

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Auk, the name applied to a family of webfooted sea-birds.  They have a thickset, heavy body with short wings and tail.  They are seldom more than a foot long, dark colored above and white beneath.  They live almost exclusively in the water and visit the land only to lay eggs and breed.  Their movements on land are very awkward, which is caused because their legs are set far back.  They are fine swimmers and divers, using their wings as well as their legs when under water.  The razor-bill and the so-called little auk are common in high northern latitudes, and are used by the Esquimaux for food, while the skins are used in making clothing.

Great Auk

The most noted as well as the largest member of the family, is the great auk, which has become extinct by the hand of man within the last fifty years.  This bird, about the size of a goose, was formerly abundant on both shores of the Atlantic in north temperate parts, not, as is commonly supposed, in the Arctic Ocean.  The wings were so short as to be useless for flight, and the birds stupidly allowed themselves to be knocked over by seamen armed with short clubs and to be driven in large flocks on board vessels.  They were used as food from the time of the discovery of Newfoundland, and later they were killed for their feathers.  While once wonderfully abundant, they have become extinct, because they were ruthlessly slaughtered.  Now their skins, bones and eggs bring high prices from museums and collectors.