eWestern BirdsThe Quarterly Journal of Western Field Ornithologists
Vol. 37, No. 3
Western Field Ornithologists
A Historical Perspective on the Citrus-like Scent of the Crested Auklet
Spencer G. Sealy
ABSTRACT: The tangerine-like odor produced by breeding Crested Auklets (Aethia cristatella) of both sexes has attracted considerable attention recently as researchers attempt to determine its function. Chicks and one-year-old immatures do not produce the odor. Even though the odor has long been known to the Yu’pik people of St. Lawrence Island, naturalists and ornithologists visiting seabird colonies on the Aleutian Islands and in the Bering Sea from the mid-1700s through first half of the 20th century did not mention the odor. I trace the steps of two early ornithologists, Charles H. Townsend and Ira N. Gabrielson, whose numerous visits to auklet colonies in the late 1800s and 1940s, respectively, provided opportunities to smell the scent. The odor was eventually described on the basis of specimens smelled during preparation and on the basis of encounters with the auklets at sea. The closely related Whiskered Auklet (A. pygmaea) also produces an odor, but its function requires study.