06 April 2017, The Tablet

Song of the Earth

The arrival of spring


The Tablet, born 16 May 1840, was just a few weeks old when the great auk was declared extinct in Britain. Part penguin, part puffin, by all accounts Pinguinus impennis was a striking bird. Colossal beak and coloured like a domino, it stood upright at nearly three feet tall. The stub wings that were too small for flight gave the seabird an otter’s grace in the water.

Unused to human adversaries – white tailed eagles and killer whales were their usual enemies – they were tame, indeed curious of the adventurous men encountering them on the cliffs of the cold North Atlantic. Eyewitnesses recall the birds staring at them “just like a human being”. Rich in oils, their downy feathers highly prized for pillows, the great auk was a sitting target.

Get Instant Access

Continue Reading

Register for free to read this article in full

Subscribe for unlimited access

From just £30 quarterly

  Complete access to all Tablet website content including all premium content.
  The full weekly edition in print and digital including our 179 years archive.
  PDF version to view on iPad, iPhone or computer.

Already a subscriber? Login