common guillemot



common guillemot defined in 1930 year

common guillemot - Common Guillemot;
common guillemot -

Head, neck, and upper parts blackish brown; under parts white. Length, eighteen inches.

The common guillemot is the most abundant of the four species of auks which inhabit the British Islands. Less handsome and striking in appearance than the razorbill, in its habits it is just as interesting. It is found in the breeding season on all parts of our coasts where extensive rocky cliffs and headlands exist, and it has not been driven away by persecution. At some points on the coast, as at Bempton Cliffs and Flamborough Head, and at the Farne Islands, and other localities farther north, the guillemots are still exceedingly numerous; south of Yorkshire they have greatly diminished in numbers, and several of the old breeding-stations have been abandoned.

On the sea their habits are similar to those of the razorbill: they swim, dive, and fly in strings in the same manner. In appearance the two species differ considerably. The guillemot has a dusky brown or mouse-coloured upper plumage, and a straight, sharp beak, very different to the massive weapon of the razorbill.

Early in spring the guillemots begin to gather from the neighbouring seas at their old breeding-stations on the summits and sides of cliffs that face the ocean. Of all birds that breed in communities, they are the most social, or, at all events, crowd closest together. Where they breed on the side of the cliff, as at Flamborough, they may be seen standing in close rows and groups on every ledge or jutting rock large enough to afford them a footing. A strange and fascinating spectacle is presented when the cliff is looked at from below, and the guillemots are seen in thousands, row above row, lessening in size by distance until, near the summit of the vast precipice, they appear no bigger than dippers; all standing erect, their backs to the dark stone wall, and their shiny, white breasts to the sea. It is also strange to see them gathered on the flat, tablelike tops of the ' Pinnacles,' a group of isolated, precipitous rocks at the Fames; for here the space they have is not sufficient to properly accommodate the vast number of birds that resort to it. Their appearance forcibly reminds the spectator of a human crowd on some fête day in a populous city; but the bird-crowd does not move or sway: each guillemot keeps its place, for it is standing over its own egg, which must be kept warm at any cost. In spite of this fixity they are all very alert and lively, turning their beaks about this way and that, and, when alarmed, all bobbing and bowing their heads as if to salute the intruder. Although silent birds when on the sea, the guillemots become loquacious at their breeding-grounds. They are very excitable, and when two or three neighbours quarrel, as they frequently do, or a bird returned from the sea drops on to a ledge where others are standing, or when male and female meet again after a separation of a few hours, there is a great deal oî noise. They utter a hoarse, long-drawn cry, like the beginning of a dog's howl before he has cleared his voice; also a succession of laughter-like notes, and other sounds resembling the cries, guttural and clear, of the black-headed gull; and, sometimes, short, barking notes like those of geese and sheldrakes.

Like most short-winged, heavy-bodied birds, they fly straight to their point, rushing violently through the air with rapidly-beating wings. It is amusing to watch a bird flying in from the sea, and attempting to alight on a ledge of rock already crowded; one or two birds at che spot the new-comer attempts to drop on threaten to strike with their beaks. This demonstration prevents him from coming down among them; and, being incapable of gliding off to one side to drop on to some other spot, or of suspending himself in the air for a few moments, he is compelled to drop down without touching the ledge, sweep round, and go straight out to sea again, and after flying a distance of three or four hundred yards, or farther, to circle round and come back to the ledge a second time. The frustrated bird is often seen to fly right away out of sight.

The single egg of the guillemot is deposited on the naked rock, without any nest, often dangerously near the edge. The sitting- birds are very careful when leaving the rock to push the eggs from under them; but when suddenly startled, as by the report of a gun fired from a ship or boat for the amusement of cockney excursionists, the eggs may be thrown off the ledge, and in some instances have been seen to fall in a shower down the cliff-side. The guillemot lays a handsome pear-shaped egg, very large for the bird. No other bird lays eggs so various in colour; so greatly do they vary that two eggs cannot be found quite alike, even among hundreds. The ground-colour in different specimens is white, cream, stone-colour, pale blue, reddish, and many shades of green, from a strong, bright green to olive-green. The egg is spotted and blotched with brown, black, and deep red, and grey. The guillemot when incubating does not lie on its egg like most birds, but stands with the egg between its legs, which are placed very far back, as in all auks, divers, and grebes. It is a pretty and amusing sight to watch the guillemot, when returning to her egg after a short absence, walk on to it, and adjust and readjust it a score of times, using her beak and chin for the purpose, before she is satisfied that it is effectually covered, Incubation lasts a month, and only one young bird is reared in the season; if the first egg is taken she will lay a second, and sometimes a third.

In strange contrast to the guttural croaking and barking cries of the adults is the language of the young bird. Its hunger-note is a far-reaching, sandpiper-like cry, clear, tremulous, and musical. In imitation of this sound the young bird is called a willock; and it is supposed that the name of guillemot, which is of French origin, is also derived from the young bird's cry.

near common guillemot in Knolik


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