Photo by: Jeff Schwilk

Pigeon Guillemots

What are Pigeon Guillemots?

Pigeon Guillemots are the only black and white seabird with bright red feet that breed on land in the South Puget Sound. Most are more comfortable in and under the water than in the air. Underwater, they use their wings as flippers to swim up to 150 feet deep chasing after sculpins and gunnels, which are the most common food items. Many nest in burrows that they excavate in sandy cliffs, and typically lay only two eggs each year. Both the male and female incubate the eggs for about four weeks and care for the young until they are ready to leave the nest after 4-6 weeks.

Why are we monitoring them?

They are considered to be an “indicator species” of the Salish Sea because they can be used to monitor ecosystem change and ecosystem health, biodiversity, condition of habitats, and climate change. These birds feed their young primarily sculpins and gunnels, which are both bottom-dwelling fish species. There is little to any formal research being conducted on pigeon guillemots and as a result, we know little about their populations and current status, thus it is important that we gather baseline information about their population in order to provide Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife with the information needed to assess whether their numbers growing or declining. This monitoring effort began during the summer of 2013 and was carried out by citizens like you!  This research is based directly off of the work that the Whidbey Island Pigeon Guillemot Research Group has conducted for 15 years.

Survey Locations

We survey 40 sites weekly during the breeding season (June through September). During the rest of the year, we survey once a month.

Data Collection

The primary data collected at each survey site are observations on behaviors, total counts of birds, burrow visits, and fish deliveries. From these numbers, we are able to determine active burrows from non-active sites. Surveyors also collect information about disturbances and the bird’s responses to the disturbance.  During the non-breeding season, we conduct monthly surveys for each colony to document where Pigeon Guillemots spend time during the non-breeding season, when they switch from breeding plumage to non-breeding plumage and back, and when they return to breeding colonies.  Since 2016, we have been using an online system to compile the data, which provides real-time visualization of the activity at every colony throughout the breeding survey period.

Want to Get Involved?

If you are interesting in learning more about these beautiful birds or volunteering for summer surveys, please contact Terence the project lead or Anne the Program Co-Coordinator or call the Center at (360) 459-0387.