At a Glance

Along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California, this auk is generally found very close to rocky shores. Pairs may nest in colonies or in isolation. It is strikingly patterned in the breeding season, when the red-orange legs and mouth lining may be important signals in courtship.
Auks, Murres, Puffins, Upright-perching Water Birds
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Open Ocean
Alaska and The North, California, Northwest, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Northernmost breeders in Alaska move south in winter to edge of pack ice. Birds from center of range (British Columbia to Oregon) may be permanent residents of that region. Many California birds apparently move north after breeding, as far as British Columbia.


12-14" (30-36 cm). In breeding plumage, black with big white wing patches, orange-red feet. Smaller than White-winged Scoter, with much bigger wing patch. Juveniles and winter adults gray to whitish, paler than most auks. Compare to Black Guillemot (mostly different range).
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Gray, Red, White
Wing Shape
Broad, Rounded, Short
Tail Shape

Songs and Calls

High thin whistles and squeaks.
Call Pattern
Flat, Rising
Call Type
Hi, Trill, Whistle


Rocky coasts, inshore waters. Breeds on rocky islands and on mainland cliffs inaccessible to predators. At sea usually close to rocky shorelines, less often far out over continental shelf. In Bering Sea may be far from land around openings and edges of pack ice.



1-2. Creamy to pale blue-green, with gray and brown blotches concentrated near large end. Incubation is by both sexes, 26-32 days.


Both parents feed young, bringing them small fish at all hours of day, especially in early morning. Young leave nest 29-54 days after hatching, usually at night, scrambling or fluttering down to water. Able to swim and dive immediately, but not capable of strong flight for another 2-3 weeks.

Feeding Behavior

Forages by diving and swimming underwater, propelled mainly by wings. Uses feet mostly for steering but also, unlike most auks, for some propulsion underwater. Mostly forages by searching sea bottom; can dive as much as 150' below surface but most feeding is probably within 60' of surface.


fish and other marine life. Diet varies with season and location. Eats mostly small fish, also shrimps, crabs, polychaete worms, mollusks, small octopus.


First breeds at age 3-5 years. Courtship displays by members of pair include mutual circling and bill-touching. Rapid zigzag chases on water near colony may also be involved in courtship. Nest site, probably chosen by male, is in crevice or cave, among boulders, in abandoned burrow, under driftwood or debris. May also excavate own nest burrow. Same site usually re-used for several years. Nest is shallow scrape in pile of dirt, pebbles, shells.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Total population not well known, but probably has declined in recent decades. Vulnerable to oil spills and other pollution. Breeding attempts may fail in years of unusually warm water temperatures, so climate change is a concern.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Pigeon Guillemot. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Pigeon Guillemot

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.