Black Guillemot

Cepphus grylle



The Black Guillemot has a long neck and its legs are vivid red. It is smaller than the Guillemot. In summer, plumage is sooty-brown and there's an oval-shaped white wing-patch. The gape is orange-red when seen from close proximity. During autumn and winter, the white patch on the wing remains, but otherwise the bird has scaly grey upperparts, dark flight feathers, dark bill and eye and a black tail. Juveniles resemble winter adults but they have distinct barring.


Prefers to breed on beaches with boulders. Otherwise a marine bird that dwells closer to coasts than other auks.


Has an upright sitting pose when it is on land. When flying, it is low in the air, unless searching for abundant feeding territory, when it rises much higher. Swims and dives close to seashores, in groups of one or two, or in small breeding colonies. May work as a team to hunt a school of fish.


Diet consists of fish such as sand eels, blennies, butterfish, small cod and sole. Also eats small crabs, shrimps and other animals.


In morning during spring, birds gather to display on the sea, then move to the land; their red mouths can be seen, vivid against the dark plumage. Female lays one or two eggs in May and both adults incubate for about 30 days. Hatchlings depart the nest and swim on the ocean before they learn to fly; they gain independence when they leave their colony, but it may be 4 years before they breed.


This is a year-round resident in waters of Ireland and the north and west of Scotland. Not many British birds travel further than 50km from where they hatched. UK summer population is around 19 000 pairs, and there are more than 1600 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

This bird is best viewed from the north of (mainland) Scotland, or from the northern Scottish islands. Sheltand and Orkney are hotspots. Birds may be seen in breeding colonies in these areas between May and July; they may perch on rocks close to the ocean, or may be seen swimming.


Predominately a quiet bird, but does have a shrill 'peeeech' call usually made near its nest.
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