top of page
  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Auk time! Guillemot. Brighton Marina. 04.11.21

I had heard reports that there had been a Guillemot in and around the sea. I went to have a look, and there was. It was swimming and diving just to the east of the east arm of the Marina, a few meters out to sea. I was puzzled as to why a single Guillemot was there; it is not a typical place to see a Guillemot

The UK's coasts have many stretches of sheer cliffs where seabirds breed and the guillemot is one of the most numerous birds in the great 'seabird cities'. It comes to land only to nest, spending the rest of its life at sea, where it is vulnerable to oil spills. Dark brown and white, not as black as the similar razorbill, it has a 'bridled' form with a white ring round the eye and stripe behind it.

Guillemot are found on small areas of cliffs on the south coast of England, very locally on the coasts and islands of Wales and in a handful of places in the north of England and Northern Ireland. More widely spread on cliffs of Scotland. RSPB nature reserves such as Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire, Fowlsheugh in Grampian and Marwick Head in Orkney have large colonies. In winter it is widespread around UK coasts but usually well offshore. It is sometimes seen inshore after gales or passing by longer headlands. Guillemot Bird Facts | Uria Aalge - The RSPB

Having read reports of Guillemots dying in large numbers this autumn, I was quiye concerned about it.

Concerns have been raised after reports of 'unprecedented' deaths amongst guillemots in the north of the UK.

The seabirds have reportedly been found starving and washed up dead along the coast of Scotland and northeast England. The birds have also been seen closer to shore than normal, away from their hunting grounds out in the open water.

Toxins, climate change and a lack of food have been suggested as causes, but the exact reasons remain unclear.

Dr Alex Bond, Senior Curator in Charge of birds at the Museum, says that while mass guillemot dying events, known as wrecks, aren't unfamiliar, this one is different.

'What's unusual about this is the timing,' he says. 'Wrecks normally occur in winter, and these are often associated with bad weather. Guillemots spend most of their time on water, not on land, so a big storm can beat them up a bit.

'The fact we're seeing lots of them in unusual places suggests this wreck is something quite different.'

Guillemots are often found around the coasts of the UK, with their distinctive black and white plumage seen high up on sheer cliffs or over the waves. There are large colonies of the birds which nest annually on offshore islands along the Northumbrian and Scottish coast.

The birds spend most of their lives at sea hunting for fish like herring and hake, only come back to land to rest and lay eggs.

But in the last few weeks concerns have been raised as reports of the birds coming in close to the shore and heading up rivers started to roll in. Emaciated guillemots have also been brought into rescue centres, while others have been found dead on beaches across the north of the UK.

While the cause of this wreck is not yet known, a number of different causes have been suggested.

'It could be related to a lack of food, toxins or a harmful algal bloom,' Alex says. 'But whether or not it's one of these factors remains to be seen.

'Seeing guillemots in strange places suggests it could be related to a hunt for food, but it could also be to do with algal blooms, or toxins more generally, causing strange behaviour in these birds.'

The cause is currently being investigated by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH). They have found guillemots which are half their usual weight and are analysing the corpses of the birds for evidence. Recent testing has ruled out bird flu, with other causes still under consideration.



bottom of page