Guillemot (Uria aalge)

Two adult guillemots perched together
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Guillemot fact file

Guillemot description

GenusUria (1)

The guillemot (Uria aalge) is the commonest member of the auk family in the British Isles (4). The head as well as the upperparts are dark brown in colour; the underparts are white. In winter a variable part of the head also becomes white (4). A 'bridled' form occurs in which the eye is bordered with white, and a white line extends backwards from the eye towards the neck (4). The bill is thin, uniformly dark and pointed, and the tail is short, so that in flight the legs are clearly visible; these features allow the guillemot to be distinguished from the razorbill (Alca torda), which also has darker upperparts (4). Young guillemots in their first summer are generally similar in appearance to adults, but have a white area on the throat (4). In breeding colonies, this species is particularly vocal, producing a variety of calls including a deep 'mmmmm' (4), which has given rise to an alternative common name for this species, the 'murre' (5).

Guillemot de Troïl.
Wingspan: 61-73 cm (2)
Length: 38-46 cm (2)

Guillemot biology

Guillemots gather in breeding colonies for the summer. Between May and July, females lay a single egg directly onto cliff ledges; its conical shape prevents it from rolling off (4). At around three weeks of age, the young guillemot leaves the colony before it has fledged, and dramatically plunges into the sea accompanied by the adult male (6), who will care for the young at sea until it becomes independent a couple of months later (2), (7). Shortly after leaving the breeding colonies between June and August, adult guillemots undergo the main annual moult, and become flightless for around six to seven weeks (7).

During the winter guillemots disperse fairly widely, with young birds covering the greatest distances (7). Throughout the year, the diet consists mainly of various small species of fish, as well as crustaceans, marine worms and molluscs. Sand eels are particularly important during summer (2). Guillemots dive to obtain food (2), 'flying' under water with their wings (6).


Guillemot range

The guillemot occurs in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (1), breeding on the coasts of the north Pacific and north Atlantic (2). In Britain it breeds in internationally significant numbers (2).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

See this species on Google Earth.


Guillemot habitat

Inhabiting both coastal and offshore waters, the guillemot nests on coastal cliffs and rock stacks (2).


Guillemot status

The guillemot is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and listed under Appendix III of the Berne Convention (2). Included in the Birds of Conservation concern Amber list (medium conservation concern) (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Guillemot threats

Historically, guillemots and their eggs were taken for food, and adults were shot for sport, but this largely ceased after the 1930s. Current threats include oil pollution (2). Although not a current problem, food shortage, thought to be caused mainly by over-fishing, is a potential threat (8). All auks are rendered particularly susceptible to oil pollution by their diving habits (2), and in recent years local incidents of mass mortality caused by starvation have occurred in Scotland (2). Food shortage may prove to be the most serious threat to this species in the long-term (2).


Guillemot conservation

Research into the effects of large-scale fishing on species of auks, particularly into the effects of industrial fishing of sand eels, is required (2). Furthermore, oil pollution and its effects must be minimised (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Find out more

For more information on the guillemot and other bird species:



Information authenticated by the RSPB:



Diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
A diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following; a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2011)
  2. Batten, L.A., Bibby, C.J., Clement, P., Elliot, G.D. and Porter, R.F. (1990) Red Data Birds in Britain. T & A Poyser, London.
  3. RSPB (2003) The population status of birds in the UK
  4. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  5. Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air; the names, lore and literature of British birds. Book Club Associates, London.
  6. Hume, R. and Pearson, B. (1993) Seabirds. Hamlyn Ltd, London.
  7. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.
  8. RSPB (2003) Pers. comm.

Image credit

Two adult guillemots perched together  
Two adult guillemots perched together

© Andrew Parkinson /

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Listen to the Guillemot

Two adult guillemots perched together
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Guillemot recordings by Gerrit Vyn

© Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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