A Caution to Everybody – The tragedy of the Great Auk

I’m taking another closer look at Ornithologia Britannica, the first list of British birds using binomial nomenclature. There’s a great 1880 reprint of the 18th Century original.

Ornithologia Britannica - The Hall of Einar
Ornithologia Britannica by Marmaduke Tunstall

Tragically the list includes the Great Auk, Pinguinus impennis. This magnificent bird was made extinct by humans in the 1850s. It appears in the book as: Alca impennis, Great Auk or Penguin, le grand pingoin. One of only a few known nesting sites of the Great Auk was on Papa Westray in Orkney.

Great Auk Thomas Bewick 1804 - The Hall of Einar
The “Great Auk, Northern Penguin, or Gair-Fowl”, wood engraving by Thomas Bewick in A History of British Birds, 1804

My question is: were all those feather pillows worth their death?

Here’s a cautionary poem by Ogden Nash:

A Caution to Everybody

Consider the auk;
Becoming extinct because he forgot how to fly, and could only walk.
Consider man, who may well become extinct
Because he forgot how to walk and learned how to fly before he thinked.

Ogden Nash

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