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Sea Bird - Pigeon Guillemot

(Ceppus columba)

Sea Bird - Pigeon Guillemot - General characteristics

The pigeon guillemot is black with white patches and markings on its wings. It has bright orange-red feet, which trail in flight, looking like a scarlet tail. Its voice, a shrill, hissing whistle, sounds much like a canary. The murre family of seabirds is fairly numerous throughout the Northern Hemisphere, but the particular variety found at Sea Lion Caves is rather rare.

Pigeon guillemots, like all auks, forage by swimming underwater in pursuit of their prey. They nest mostly in small-scattered colonies or in solitary pairs. The estimated world population of pigeon guillemots is about 235,000 and most (50%-80%) breed in Alaska

The pigeon guillemot, a migratory bird, usually appears at Sea Lion Caves in early April when its mating season begins. It is similar in species to the murre of the East Coast, and is called "dovekie" by sailors, who often encounter it far out to sea.

Sea Bird - Pigeon Guillemot - Habitat

The pigeon guillemot builds its nest of seaweed or grass on the ledges inside the caves, and lays a clutch of one to two eggs. The parents feed small fish to their young until they mature and are able to care for themselves.

This unique bird seems to spend its winterís miles from land, living right on the ocean, and comes to shore only to nest. In fact, early sailors often believed that the pigeon guillemot bore its young alive because the sailors only encountered the birds far out to sea where no nest could possibly by built.

The Pigeon Guillemot lives year round along Puget Sound. A pigeon-sized water bird, the pigeon guillemot dives using its wings for paddles and its feet for rudders. Pigeon guillemots dive in shallow water for sculpins, sand lance, and smelt. They also feed in kelp beds and in waters near spits and jetties.

Pigeon guillemots dig holes in cliffs for nest sites. They use their narrow beaks to pry out stones, and sharp toe nails to scrape. Cliff nests are placed in crevices or hollows where one or two greenish, dark spotted eggs are laid.

Sea Bird - Pigeon Guillemot - Physical characteristics

In the winter, pigeon guillemots display a white head and mottled under parts. Mature pigeon guillemots have a white wing patch while at rest or in flight; immature guillemots have a mottled wing patch. Length is about 10 Ĺ inches. Male and female looks similar. It has a narrow and dark bill and is dark inside wings. In all seasons pigeon brilliant red legs and feet can identify guillemots. The pigeon guillemot makes high whistles near breeding bluffs in the spring.

Pigeon guillemots nest in rocky crevices or sandy bluffs in late spring and summer. Nest sites occur on Smith, Sentinel, Flower, and Protection Islands. Nests can also be found in bluffs on the east side of Vashon, Fox, and Anderson Islands. Guillemots often seek the cover of overhanging soil and plants on high bluffs for nesting.