Little Auk (Alle alle)

It can seem hard to believe that this is the most numerous seabird species in the north Atlantic, uncounted millions of Little Auks breeding in huge colonies in the high Arctic, mostly in Svalbard and Greenland. They winter far offshore, usually beyond the continental shelf where they dive in cold waters for crustaceans, and seldom come to the attention of man.

The only one recorded in this Atlas period was seen by Pete Williams flying past Hilbre (SJ18Z) on 21 November 2006 when he saw it attacked by a Great Black-backed Gull and ditched into the sea. Its fate is not known.

The summary by Coward & Oldham (1900) holds good today: ‘The Little Auk has occurred in Cheshire at irregular intervals during the winter months, but even in many years when large numbers have been observed on the eastern coasts none have reached our shores’. Their normal wintering area does include the northern North Sea, beyond the north of Scotland, and some wind-blown birds sometimes reach English coasts but they seldom enter the Irish Sea. Most birds in the county have been seen offshore from Hilbre or the northwest Wirral but a surprising number have been found inland. These could just as likely have been blown across from the east coast as wandered from the west.

The county bird reports list birds in winter on 23 December 1968, 22 November 1975, 18 November 1979, 26 November 1981, 25 December 1983, with birds off Hilbre on several days in November 1984 and November 1986. The next was on 21 December 1989, with two in winter 1990/ 91, and three birds together on 24 February 1992. There can be gaps of several years with no records, and it was five years to the next on 29 November 1997, then 26 January 2003 and 6 February 2004.