Bird Lore: Rhinoceros Auklet



The Rhinoceros Auklet is a chunky little seabird that belongs to the alcid family. It is common along the Edmonds waterfront and offshore waters throughout the year. Sometimes it can be seen quite close to the public pier. Both sexes of this auklet grow a white horn on the bill each spring, which gives rise to its name, and then shed it in late summer. In breeding season, this auklet also develops two white plumes on each side of its head. The Rhinoceros Auklet is a fast flier and a powerful underwater swimmer. In flight you notice its potbellied profile and short, triangular wings.

Protection Island, in the eastern part of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, hosts one of the largest breeding colonies of the Rhinoceros Auklet. From the Edmonds waterfront, look northwest up Admiralty Inlet, envision a left turn at Port Townsend, and Protection Island is in sight. As the auklet flies, Edmonds marine waters are quite close to this large breeding colony. That is why it is such a common seabird here. A key to population stability is eliminating introduced mammals, such as foxes and raccoons, from the offshore islands required by this species for breeding. This auklet’s population can also be compromised by oil spills at sea.

The Rhinoceros Auklet eats small fish such as sand lance, herring, and anchovy. It favors fish that gather in dense schools. Crustaceans are also part of its diet. This auklet forages while swimming underwater.

One documented courtship display involves both members of the pair nibbling at each other’s bills. This species announces ownership of its nest site by standing upright with its wings partly spread and pointing its bill upwards while hissing. Its nest is a ground burrow. The burrow is usually 5 – 10 feet in length but can be up to 20 feet. The nest is a cup of moss and twigs in the burrow’s chamber. The Rhinoceros Auklet usually lays just one egg. Both sexes incubate it for about 45 days. The young chick does not leave the burrow until about 8 weeks after hatching. The parents bring food to the chick after dark to avoid predators.

Although it is usually silent, you can listen to the moaning calls of the Rhinoceros Auklet here:

— By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

2 Replies to “Bird Lore: Rhinoceros Auklet”

  1. Thanks for the great picture and info, Carol. I don’t think I have ever seen one of these birds–but maybe I just wasn’t looking closely.


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