Photo: Sue/Flickr Creative Commons

Black Guillemot

Cepphus grylle

In the northeast, this bird may be seen swimming and diving around rocky shorelines. A "Black" Guillemot only in summer, it looks mostly frosty white in winter. Very similar to Pigeon Guillemot of Pacific Coast, and overlaps with it locally in Alaska.
Conservation status Wide range and scattered nesting sites probably help ensure survival. Has declined in some areas after introduction of mink or rats to nesting areas. Since 1960s, numbers wintering in Massachusetts have increased noticeably.
Family Auks, Murres, Puffins
Habitat Inshore waters of ocean; breeds on rocky shores, islands. Usually close to shore in shallow waters, but may be far offshore, especially around edges of pack ice. Sometimes feeds on freshwater lakes near coast. Nests along rocky shores, low cliffs, among debris on beaches.
In the northeast, this bird may be seen swimming and diving around rocky shorelines. A "Black" Guillemot only in summer, it looks mostly frosty white in winter. Very similar to Pigeon Guillemot of Pacific Coast, and overlaps with it locally in Alaska.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • adult, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages while swimming underwater. Most foraging within 30' of surface, may rarely dive more than 100'.


Eggs

1-2. Whitish to pale blue-green, spotted with black, brown, gray. Incubation is by both sexes, 23-39 days. Young: Both parents feed young, carrying fish in bill to nest. Young depart from nest 31-50 days after hatching, before able to fly; scramble down to water alone, apparently independent after leaving.


Young

Both parents feed young, carrying fish in bill to nest. Young depart from nest 31-50 days after hatching, before able to fly; scramble down to water alone, apparently independent after leaving.

Diet

Varies with place and season. May include more fish in southern part of range, more crustaceans farther north. Fish in diet (mainly those living near bottom in shallow waters) include butterfish, blennies, sculpins, gobies, sand lance, cod, many others. Crustaceans include crabs, shrimps, mysids, amphipods, copepods, isopods. Also eats some mollusks, insects, marine worms, bits of plant material.


Nesting

Usually first breeds at age of 4 years. Nests as isolated pairs or in colonies. May perform communal display: one or several birds strut with high-stepping walk, neck upstretched; may assume similar posture in water, leading to chases and diving. Members of pair face each other and bob heads, calling, sometimes touching bills. Nest site is in boulder pile, crevice near base of cliff, under driftwood or debris; usually close to water, rarely more than mile inland. Pair may re-use same site each year. Nest is thin layer of pebbles or debris, sometimes mere scrape in soil.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Largely permanent resident, overwintering as far north as open water allows, including openings and edges in pack ice. Small southward movement in winter brings some annually to Massachusetts, rarely farther.

Download Our Bird Guide App

Migration

Largely permanent resident, overwintering as far north as open water allows, including openings and edges in pack ice. Small southward movement in winter brings some annually to Massachusetts, rarely farther.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Shrill mouse-like squeaks.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

Explore Similar Birds