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A sea bird that nests on ledges on the limestone cliffs of Purbeck and Portland

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

As members of the auk family guillemots (Uria aalge) are true seabirds spending most of their life at sea and only coming to land during the breeding season. It is unusual to see them away from open sea, just occasionally one will turn up in one of our harbours but this is not often. Outside of the breeding season they travel in search of food and are known to go as far as the bay of Biscay and sometimes even as far as Portugal but. in general, they are not really migratory. They are a colonial breeding species and they return to the same colony they were brought up in each spring. Colonies nest on rocky cliff spaces with narrow ledges and birds can be crammed together which can cause some upset between them and so nesting colonies tend to be quite noisy! They make a curious growling sound during breeding but otherwise are silent.

Here in Dorset we see guillemots off the coast for much of the year with small numbers staying on the sea around the foot of the cliffs. There are, however, very few reports from week 17 at the end of April until week 47 towards the end of November but during December they start to return and numbers build as they start to gather in preparation for the breeding season. What I find difficult at the moment is that whilst they do start to arrive back at their nesting sites well before the breeding season starts they do not actually nest until May and yet the number of records as shown by the weekly reports chart has none for May during 2017 and 2018! Have the guillemots gone by then or have the recorders gone? This is something I hope will become clearer as the data builds over the years.

We have two primary nesting colonies in Dorset, the largest is on the Purbeck cliffs at Durlston and a smaller one on the west cliffs of Portland Bill by the radar installation there. Other reports are mainly coastal and will be of birds on the move offshore but there may be small colonies nesting near places like Dancing Ledge and Winspit.

Certainly, the Durlston colony presents your best chance of adding guillment to your Dorset list; visit during the winter months for the best numbers.


Common Name Guillemot
Scientific Name Uria aalge
Species Group Birds Shearwaters Petrels Auks and Cormorants
Status Locally frequent
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
Look for

Penguin shaped birds on rocky cliff ledges

Identification Notes
  • Fair size nesting colonies can be found at Durslton and on Portland
  • Often seen floating on the sea at the bottom of the cliffs, usually in straight lines!
  • Our most numerous and often seen member of the auk family 
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Shearwaters Petrels Auks and Cormorants