Words & pictures by Graham Stewart
Normally found in Northern waters, the Guillemot is a bird that spends most of its time out at sea, only coming ashore to breed. It is a relative of the penguin that has retained the ability to fly.
Once ashore the Guillemot nests in colonies on a bare ledge on a sheer cliff face often with no space between the next breeding pair. The female lays one egg that is pear shaped. Thinking behind this, is that the shape helps prevent it rolling of the ledge. Parents take it in turn to incubate the eggs which is kept safe between the adults feet for approx 33 days.
Once hatched the chick stays on the ledge for about 21 days during which time it’s feathers become waterproof. It’s next act is one of sheer bravery as it is encouraged by its parents in the water below, to leap from the cliff face, often several hundred meters above. At this stage it cannot fly.
Once in the water the chick is looked after by its father and quickly becomes an expert swimmer. From the surface it will look beneath for prey and once spotted it will dive down propelled by its wings. Guillemots have been recorded as deep as 180 meters and can hold their breath for around 1 minute. Their main diet is fish such as herring and sprats, sand eels, crustaceans and worms.
Wing span 67cm
Weight 700g approx
Avg life span 23 years
© Graham Stewart / wildonline 2020