A Guide to Etiquette for Living in a Brunnich’s Guillemot Colony

John Yerbury

05 Dec 2016

As the season ends at our summer retreat, the new generation will be preparing for their coming of age; their half-fledged flight. Other birds pander to their young’s unreadiness, but not us! We need to head South before the onset of winter and so the chicks have only half developed their wings and feathers. But they are perfectly capable of an unsteady glide from the cliff face to the sea below. Protocol is as follows; fathers head down to the sea where they wait, calling up, goading their young into taking the leap. “Come on you wimp.” “There’ll be no supper if you don’t grow up.” Mothers stay with the chicks and when they finally pluck up the courage to jump, will follow them closely, yelling words of derogatory encouragement. Sometimes a firm but motherly shove is required. 

The property market is booming and due to high demand and low supply, we need to be especially protective of our abodes. We are good-natured to most of our neighbours and require little space, but if a fellow guillemot attempts to land on your ledge, appropriate behaviour is to peck and shove the well-meaning intruder, even if they just want to rest. Ideally this should be done at the moment of landing, before they regain balance, and if necessary, follow through, chasing them to the sea below and fight for 5 – 10 minutes to drive home the point.

We aren’t ones for home comforts or material things, although a strict dress code of tail coats is mandatory. We lay our eggs directly onto the bare rock. If they should roll off the edge early on, then another one can always be laid. This usually isn’t an issue though as we have special avian ovaries that shape pyriform eggs, heavy at one end to only induce spinning rather than rolling.

We have a short wingspan compared to other birds, indeed we have the highest energy use per body size to keep ourselves in the air, and this does give us a rather clumsy appearance during flight, but no other bird, ones that can fly anyway, can compete with our abilities in deep diving and underwater antics. We can reach depths of around 180 metres, holding our breath for up to 5 minutes. Due to the ungraceful nature of our flight we have developed procedures for landing and taking off from the water. As we approach sea level, it is important to slightly pull up at the last second and then stop flying altogether so that we pause briefly suspended in the air. 

For take offs a great deal of water walking is required. Our stubby wings simply can’t generate enough lift for immediate ascension, so around ten frantic steps help give us that little extra thrust to get ourselves airborne.

Sanitation in the colony is a responsibility of all inhabitants. We have the latest in facing cliff, open air orifices sometimes with a large sloped installation below to help with conservation efforts. Our fertilizing programme is of huge assistance to the environment, creating lush green vegetation which also helps to mitigate the inconvenient summer camouflage of our mortal enemies, the foxes. We are all about the greater good! If you do find yourself in the jaws of a fox, just keep in mind that your sacrifice will be honoured and treasured by every bird that escapes due to the distraction caused by your misfortune.


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