Black Guillemot

Black Guillemot

Latin name: Cepphus grille
Global Distribution: breeding grounds northern Atlantic coasts, western Europe
UK Distribution: breeding grounds western and northern Scotland and Ireland, St. Bees Head in Cumbria, the Isle of Man and on east Anglesey in north Wales.
Size: Length 30-32cm ,Wingspan 52-58cm, Weight 300-460g
Diet: Fish and crustaceans
Habitat: Rocky islets

The Black guillemot, which is surprisingly a close puffin relative, is easily identified by its black and white plumage and bright red legs. Usually solitary bird but can be found in pairs occupying small rocky islets or rocky shores. There they breed and make their nest out of pebbles, shells and seaweed or nothing at all, if there is a “good spot” available with an overhanging rock to use as a roof. This makes the species really hard to survey and census during the breeding season.

Breeding usually occurs in colonies and they get denser and denser the further north you go, where food availability is higher. Currently it is estimated that there are 400,000 to 700,000 individuals in the world. Black guillemots are great divers in shallow waters and can stay underwater for up to 21/2  min, using their wings to swim. Smaller fish pray will be consumed while underwater while bigger ones will be brought to the surface and maybe carried around for hours. When not diving for food the species can fly at speeds up to 20 km/h. Black Guillemot’s young and eggs are an easy pray for rats, foxes and minks but once they made it to adulthood they can live for up to 11 years old.

Fun facts

  • They featured in the 1905 book The Bird Watcher in the Shetlands by Edmund Selous, a pioneer of birdwatching as a scientific method.
  • Despite their name their winter plumage is actually a mixture of white, grey and black.
  • Arctic populations of black guillemot are one of the few seabirds that do not migrate to avoid the arctic winter, despite the bitter cold and darkness for months on end.