July 3, 1844: Last pair of Great Auks killed. Although individual auks were seen after that, there were no more breeding pairs left, and the birds became extinct. They had been hunted by humans for over 100,000 years, but it wasn't until Europeans developed a taste for auk down comforters that the creature was really in trouble. This painting by John James Audubon shows the Great Auk in its summer plumage.

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The Irish name for the great auk is 'falcóg mhór'. The Basque name is arponaz, meaning "spearbill". Its early French name was apponatz. The Norse called the great auk geirfugl, which led to an alternative English common name for the bird, "garefowl"/ "gairfowl". The Inuit name for the great auk was isarukitsok. The word "penguin" first appears in the 16th century as a synonym for "great auk." It may be derived from the Welsh pen gwyn "white head", although the etymology is debated.

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The Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis) was a large, flightless bird that became extinct in the mid-19th century. It was the only modern species in the genus Pinguinus, a group of birds that formerly included one other species of flightless giant auk from the Atlantic Ocean region. The Little Ice Age may have reduced the population of the Great Auk by exposing more of their breeding islands to predation by Polar Bears, but massive exploitation for their down drastically reduced the population.

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The Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis) was a large, flightless bird of the alcid family that became extinct in the mid-19th century. It was the only modern species in the genus Pinguinus, a group of birds that formerly included one other species of flightless giant auk from the Atlantic Ocean region.

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Extinct birds wearing clothes from the year they became extinct. Image of Great Auk, 1844 | print

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Greak auk from Walter Rothschild’s Extinct Birds (1907) (Courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

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