Meet the Guillemot

Wednesday 6th January comments: Its time we started a new mini-series where we look at the various nesting seabirds of the Isle of May and recap on their biology, the connections with the island and where they are at this very moment in time (in deepest darkest January).

Today we meet the Guillemot.


Guillemots are a member of the Auk family (which includes Puffins and Razorbills) and is a common species of seabird in the U.K. Guillemots are chocolate brown and white (Razorbills are black and white) and have a very upright posture due to the position of their legs (the legs are at the back of their bodies as these birds are designed for swimming rather than being on land). During the winter, the birds will moult and show more white on their faces which varies with individuals. Interestingly between 4-5% of the islands birds have a white spectacles around their eyes, known as ‘bridled’ Guillemots.

Breeding Biology

The first Guillemots start arriving on the cliffs of the Isle of May in late March as they prepare for a new breeding season. The species does not breed until it is at least four years old and they do not build a nest structure, as they lay a single large egg and incubate on their feet. Both sexes will help incubate and as colonial nesters, neighbours will help defend against predators. Following incubation, the young chicks are tendered for by both parents until they reach 20-21 days old and youngsters are encouraged to jump and scramble off the cliff ledges to meet their father below (starts in late June on the Isle of May with most gone by July). It is then solely the dad’s job to take the chick out to the open sea (in some case 60 miles out) and raise the chick until it’s ready to fledge. Thereafter small numbers return to Isle of May waters in late August and early autumn.

And tomorrow we reveal how the population is coping, what happened in 2020 and what the birds are doing during the winter months. Stay tuned…

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