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Guillemot: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Common Guillemot (U. aalge) and two Brünnich's Guillemots (U. lomvia) from the genus Uria.
Pigeon Guillemot (C. columba) from the genus Cepphus.

Guillemot is the common name for several species of seabird in the order Charadriiformes, and the auk family, comprising two genera: Uria and Cepphus. This word of French origin apparently derives from a form of the name William, cf. the Welsh: Gwillim or the French: Guillaume.[1]

The Uria are known as murres in North America and, together with the Razorbill, Dovekie and the extinct Great Auk, make up the tribe Alcini. They have distinctly white bellies, thicker, longer bills than Cepphus and form very dense colonies on cliffs during the reproductive season.

The three species of Cepphus - for which the term "guillemot" is generally reserved in North America - form a tribe of their own: Cepphini. They are smaller than the Uria species, have black bellies, rounder heads and bright red feet.




Some prehistoric species are also known:

  • Uria bordkorbi (Monterey or Sisquoc Late Miocene of Lompoc, USA)
  • Uria affinis (Late Pleistocene of E USA) - possibly a subspecies of U. lomvia
  • Uria paleohesperis

U. brodkorbi is interesting insofar as it is the only known occurrence of the Alcini tribe in the temperate to subtropical Pacific, except for the very fringe of the range of U. aalge. It suggests that the Uria species, which are the sister taxon to all the other Alcini, and like them are usually believed to have evolved in the Atlantic, may have evolved in the Caribbean or possibly close to the Isthmus of Panama. The modern Pacific distribution would then be part of a later arctic expansion, whereas most other auk lineages form clades with a continuous range in the Pacific, from Arctic to subtropical waters.


As in other genera of auks, fossils of prehistoric forms of Cepphus have been found:

  • Cepphus olsoni (San Luis Rey River Late Miocene - Early Pliocene of W USA)
  • Cepphus cf. columba (Lawrence Canyon Early Pliocene of W USA)
  • Cepphus cf. grylle (San Diego Late Pliocene, W USA)

The latter two resemble the extant species, but because of the considerable distance in time or space from their current occurrence, they may represent distinct species.


  1. ^ "Guillemot, n., etymology of" The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. Accessed Dec 17, 2007

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GUILLEMOT (Fr. guillemot 1), the name accepted by nearly all modern authors for a sea-bird, the Colymbus troile of Linnaeus and the Uria troile of Latham, which nowadays it seems seldom if ever to bear among those who, from their vocation, are most conversant with it, though, according to Willughby and Ray his translator, it was in their time so called "by those of Northumberland and Durham." Around the coasts of Britain it is variously known as the frowl, kiddaw or skiddaw, langy (cf. Ice. Langvia), lavy, marrock, murre, scout (cf. CooT), scuttock, strany, tinker or tinkershire and willock. In former days the guillemot yearly frequented the cliffs on many parts of the British coasts in countless multitudes, and this is still the case in the northern parts of the United Kingdom; but more to the southward nearly all its smaller settlements have been rendered utterly desolate by the wanton and cruel destruction of their tenants during the breeding season, and even the inhabitants of those which were more crowded had become so thinned that, but for the intervention of the Sea Birds Preservation Act (32 & 33 Vict. cap. 17), which provided under penalty for the safety of this and certain other species at the time of year when they were most exposed to danger, they would unquestionably by this time have been exterminated so far as England is concerned.

Part of the guillemot's history is still little understood. We know that it arrives at its wonted breeding stations on its accustomed day in spring, that it remains there till, towards the end of the summer, its young are hatched and able, as they soon are, to encounter the perils of a seafaring life, when away go all, parents and progeny. After that time it commonly happens that a few examples are occasionally met with in bays and shallow waters. Tempestuous weather will drive ashore a large number in a state of utter destitution - many of them indeed are not unfrequently washed up dead - but what becomes of the bulk of the birds, not merely the comparatively few thousands that are natives of Britain, but the tens and hundreds of thousands, not to say millions, that are in summer denizens of more northern latitudes, no one can say. This mystery is not peculiar to the guillemot, but is shared by all the Alcidae that inhabit the Atlantic Ocean. Examples stray every season across the Bay of 1 The word, however, seems to be cognate with or derived from the Welsh and Manx Guillem, or Gwilym as Pennant spells it. The association may have no real meaning, but one cannot help comparing the resemblance between the French guillemot and Guillaume with that between the English willock (another name for the bird) and William.

Biscay, are found off the coasts of Spain and Portugal, enter the Mediterranean and reach Italian waters, or, keeping farther south, may even touch the Madeiras, Canaries or Azores; but these bear no proportion whatever to the mighty hosts of whom they are literally the "scouts," and whose position and movements they no more reveal than do the vedettes of a wellappointed army. The common guillemot of both sides of the Atlantic is replaced farther northward by a species with a stouter bill, the U. arra or U. bruennichi of ornithologists, and on the west coast of North America by the U. californica. The habits of all these are essentially the same, and the structural resemblance between all of them and the Auks is so great that several systematists have relegated them to the genus Alca, confining the genus Uria to the guillemots of another group, of which the type is the U. grylla, the black guillemot of British authors,. the dovekey or Greenland dove of sailors, the tysty of Shetlanders. This bird assumes in summer an entirely black plumage with the exception of a white patch on each wing, while in winter it is beautifully marbled with white and black. Allied to it as species or geographical races are the U. mandti, U. columba and U. carbo. All these differ from the larger guillemots by laying two or three eggs, which are generally placed in some. secure niche, while the members of the other group lay but a single egg, which is invariably exposed on a bare ledge. (A. N.)

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