Black guillemot

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Black guillemot
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle.jpg
Black guillemot resting on a cliff in Reykjanes, Iceland
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Alcidae
Genus: Cepphus
C. grylle
Binomial name
Cepphus grylle
Cepphus grylle map.svg
  • Alca grylle Linnaeus, 1758
  • Colymbus grylle Linnaeus, 1766

The black guillemot or tystie (Cepphus grylle) is a medium-sized alcid. The genus name Cepphus is from Ancient Greek kepphos, a pale waterbird mentioned by Greek authors including Aristotle. The species name grylle was the local dialect name for this bird in Gotland at the time of Linnaeus's visit there in 1741.[2] The English word "guillemot" is from French guillemot probably derived from Guillaume, "William".[3]

Adult birds have black bodies with a white wing patch, a thin dark bill, and red legs and feet. They show white wing linings in flight. In winter, the upperparts are pale grey and the underparts are white. The wings remain black with the large white patch on the inner wing. They are 32–38 cm (13–15 in) in length, and with a 49–58 cm (19–23 in) wingspan.

Eggs, Collection Museum Wiesbaden, Germany

Their breeding habitat is rocky shores, cliffs and islands on northern Atlantic coasts in eastern North America as far south as Maine, and in western Europe as far south as Ireland. They are one of the few birds to breed on Surtsey, Iceland, a new volcanic island. In the UK it is a fairly common breeding bird in western and northern Scotland and Ireland. In the rest of Great Britain they only breed at St. Bees Head in Cumbria, the Isle of Man and on east Anglesey in north Wales. Some birds breed in Alaska where their range overlaps with the pigeon guillemot. They usually lay their eggs in rocky sites near water.

There are five listed subspecies of the black guillemot:[4]

These birds often overwinter in their breeding areas, moving to open waters if necessary, but usually not migrating very far south.

They dive for food from the surface, swimming underwater. They mainly eat fish and crustaceans, also some mollusks, insects and plant material.

The call in the breeding season is a high whistle. The red gape is also prominent then.

Showing red gape
Winter plumage off the coast of Maine


One of the early ornithologists that described aspects of the behaviour of the black guillemot was Edmund Selous (1857-1934) in his book The Bird Watcher in the Shetlands (1905).[5] In the chapter titled 'From the Edge of a Precipice'[6] he writes for instance that sometimes the black guillemots carry a fish they have caught in their beak for hours. He also gives further details about the behaviour.


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Cepphus grylle". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 96, 180. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  3. ^ "Guillemot". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ "Coursers, noddies, gulls, terns, auks and sandgrouse". International Ornithological Congress. Retrieved 2015-01-13.
  5. ^ Selous (1905).
  6. ^ Selous (1905), p. 68f.