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


Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

Guillemot: all at sea

Post date: Tuesday, 22 April, 2014 - 00:00

Migration is not just about birds leaving us for Africa in autumn and returning to us in spring. As amazing as those journeys are for swallows, warblers, terns and others, remember also our sea birds. They do not leave our shores to fly to Africa, they spend the winter months flying around the oceans. Indeed, it is only with the coming of small GPS tracking systems that we are beginning to understand the migration of our sea birds by attaching these devices to some of them . 

After spending the winter somewhere far away out at sea the guillemot (Uria aalge) returns to the cliffs of Durlston and Portland Bill for the breeding season. Between March and the end of July is the best time to look out for them and If you look out from the cliff tops you can often see rafts of these birds floating below you, and often in seemingly in straight lines! About two hundred pairs nest at Durlston and more than that number at Portland. In recent years the numbers have been declining and are down about 35% in less than 10 years which is worrying. Dwindling fish stocks and severe winter storms in our changing climate seem to be the main issues along with, of course, pollution of our seas with oil and plastics.

The guillemot is a member of the auk family, its cousins the razorbill and the puffin also nest on the Dorset coast but in much, much smaller numbers. The guillemot is easy to tell apart from the other two because of their chocolate brown head and back with white front and that pointed beak. In many ways they are the penguins of the northern hemisphere.


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

Sites List Distribution Map Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Original Tweets Relatives Guidance Notes
Common Name Guillemot
Scientific Name Uria aalge
Status Locally frequent
Interest Level
Species Family Auks, Petrels, Shearwaters and Gannets
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
Preferred Environment
  • Open sea
  • Rocky cliffs and shores
Look for Penguin shaped birds on rocky cliff ledges
Additional 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