Two eggs are better than one
Pigeon guillemots belong to the auk family (also known as alcids), a group of birds that includes guillemots, murres, auklets and puffins. They’re known for their high-pitched vocalizations, and are one of the few birds in this family to lay more than one egg at a time. Pigeon guillemots typically lay two eggs, which hatch after an incubation period that lasts between 28 and 32 days.
A nest with a view
Pigeon guillemots breed as single pairs but live in colonies of up to 25 pairs. Like many seabirds, they seek out high, protected places to nest. They nest in rock crevices at the top of rocky cliffs and steep slopes. They sometimes nest in human-built structures such as docks or piers. The pigeon guillemot can scale vertical rock faces with vigorous flapping of its wings combined with the use of the sharp claws on its webbed feet.
“Flying” under water
Pigeon guillemots have short and rounded wings that enable them to maneuver well underwater. The pigeon guillemot uses its wings to swim while searching for food. Using wings and feet, pigeon guillemots can hover in one location underwater.
Time to eat…again!
Pigeon guillemots feed on over 50 species of small fish and invertebrates including sculpins, gunnels, flatfish, herring and smelt. Both parents take part in the feeding of chicks. They bring one fish at a time an average of 16 times a day for their hungry chicks. The chicks eat the fish whole, head first! Well-fed chicks gain weight rapidly and can triple their weight within 10 days. Chicks stay in the nest 35–54 days before fledging and becoming independent of their parents.
Shallow water isn’t necessarily safe water
Pigeon guillemots spend lots of time close to shore. You may even see them along the shores of Elliott Bay—they’re the only alcids found along our local shorelines. Although they have been known to dive to depths greater than 145 feet, pigeon guillemots feed best in waters 30–60 feet deep. Because they feed in shallow nearshore waters, pigeon guillemots (and the fish they eat) are vulnerable to oil spills and other environmental damage in the nearshore environment.