Black guillemot

Black Guillemot

Black guillemot ©Tom Marshall

Black Guillemot

©Amy Lewis

Black guillemot

Scientific name: Cepphus grylle
Look out for the black guillemot all year-round at scattered coastal sites in Scotland, England, Wales and the Isle of Man. It tends not to travel far between seasons, breeding and wintering in the same spots.

Species information


Length: 30-32cm
Wingspan: 55cm
Weight: 420g
Average lifespan: 11 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015).

When to see

January to December


The black guillemot is a small auk that breeds among rocks at the base of cliffs, on lower slopes, or on rocky islands; they tend to be seen in small numbers. Black guillemots eat fish and crustaceans. They dive down from the surface of the water, and swim to catch their prey. Carrying their catch in their bill, it is possible to tell if a bird is left- or right-handed by the way the fish point. Many thousands of black guillemots breed in the UK, scattered along the coast in pairs or small groups. Not moving far between seasons, in winter, you are likely to spot them in their breeding places.

How to identify

In summer, the black guillemots is black all over, with a large, white oval patch on each wing. In winter, it turns white, with black barring on its back, and black wings. It has bright red legs and a red gape.


Nests on cliffs and rocky islands at scattered locations around the coast of Scotland, the Isle of Man and a handful of sites in England and Wales. Winters on, or near to, its breeding grounds.

Did you know?

The black guillemot is also known as the 'Tystie' in the Scottish Isles, which was probably derived from the Norse name for the bird.