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BirdNote: The Whiskered Auklet

Air Date: Week of

The Whiskered Auklet. (Photo: Toshiji Fukuda)

Alaska’s Whiskered Auklet nests deep inside rock crevices each spring, and BirdNote’s Michael Stein explains how its extraordinary long white whiskers come in handy.



CURWOOD: A number of boy birds have some pretty fancy plumage—think roosters and peacocks, and we assume it’s all about the avian mating game. But as Michael Stein explains in today’s Birdnote, sometimes those fancy feathers answer other needs.

Please include the entire transcript, from BirdNote® through the very last line of the document. Thanks!

Whiskered Auklet: Those Whiskers Aren’t Just for Show

[Ocean waves and wind]

At dusk, in the far western reaches of Alaska’s Aleutian chain of islands, thousands of tiny Whiskered Auklets fly in, to nest in cavities deep in rock crevices.

[Whiskered Auklet calls, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/133048, 0.11-.13, repeated]

Whiskered Auklets are miniature relatives of puffins and murres. Charcoal gray, they're about eight inches long and owe their name to the long, slender, white plumes that sprout from their heads each summer — two rows down the side of the face and a third set that stands like antennae above their eyes. These fancy white plumes very likely play a visual role in courtship and mate selection. But they're not just for show.

[Whiskered Auklet calls, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/133048, 0.11-.13, repeated]

Scientists have recently learned that the auklets’ “whiskers” have an important sensory function, too. When the birds enter their cliff-side nest cavities, they find themselves in utter darkness. The “whiskers” enable the auklets to feel their way along in the dark. Much like the whiskers of a cat, they're acutely sensitive.

[Whiskered Auklet calls, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/133048]

By summer’s end, when nesting is done, Whiskered Auklets return to life on the open sea, like many seabirds. And with no dark crevices to navigate and no mates to impress, they molt their multi-purpose whiskers. Until next spring. I’m Michael Stein.

Written by Bob Sundstrom
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Whiskered Auklet [133048 ] recorded by S S Seneviratne. Ambient sounds: Nature Sound 02 "Wind Mod Soft'; NatureSound 23 'Surf Mod Sandy' recorded by Gordon Hempton of Quiet Planet.com
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2005-2017 Tune In to Nature.org June 2017 Narrator: Michael Stein

Sources: Tim Birkhead’s Bird Sense
http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/factsheet/22694918; http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/076/articles/breeding


CURWOOD: And for some photos, burrow on over to our website LOE.org.



Listen on the BirdNote website

More about the Whiskered Auklet


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