Pigeon Guillemot, the Pigeon of the Sea – Terry Thormin

Winter is just around the corner here and the winter seabirds are starting to build up along the coast. Most are too far out right now to afford good photographic opportunities, but recently I managed to find a juvenile Pigeon Guillemot close to shore and got some good photos. This has prompted me to write a short blog about this bird using some of the other photos I managed to get this year. Of course the Pigeon Guillemot is not a pigeon but rather an alcid, a member of the family Alcidae which includes the puffins, murres, murrelets and auklets. At one time these birds were called sea pigeons, probably because they are somewhat pigeon-like in shape.

Pigeon Guillemots are one of the most attractive alcids on the west coast of North America. Until this year I had never been able to get a good shot of one, but finally this year several opportunities came along. My first real chance was on a boat trip to Mitlenatch Island, an island a short distance of shore from Vancouver Island in the Strait of Georgia near Campbell River. This is a small, rocky island that provides ideal habitat for nesting Guillemots. These birds nest on rocky cliffs, utilizing any protected areas they can find including small caves and cavities close to water.

Mitlenatch has a good sized nesting population of Pigeon Guillemots and it is often fairly easy, as long as the seas are calm, to get good photos of them. Two trips around the island (you can’t photograph the birds while on the island because of restricted access) resulted in a few good photos. Many of the birds were feeding close to shore, diving for fish and marine invertebrates.

As the boat approached the birds, they would often take off in front of the boat, running across the water to get airborne.

As I said earlier I recently photographed a juvenile Pigeon Guillemot swimming close to shore at Deep Bay. Juveniles and winter plumaged adults are not nearly as strikingly coloured as the breeding adults, being rather mottled looking. About the only difference between the juveniles and the winter adults is that the winter adults have a much whiter head. Because these birds are day-time feeders unlike many other alcids which are nocturnal, and because they regularly feed close to shore, looking for small fish, mollusks, marine worms, crabs and other invertebrates on the sea floor, they are easier to photograph than most alcids from shore.

The one photograph that I do not have that I would like to get is of a bird on a cliff, preferably silhouetted against the sea or sky, with the bill wide open. This makes for a beautiful photo because the mouth lining is a brilliant scarlet colour, the same colour as the feet. The colour of the feet and mouth lining plays an important role in the courtship of these birds. When you are a nature photographer there is always something else to strive for.


About annieandterry

This is a blog shared by two friends who have never met in person, Annie Pang and Terry Thormin. We both live on Vancouver Island, Annie in Victoria and Terry in Comox. All communication to date has been either by email or telephone. We are both passionate about nature and conservation and we are both nature photographers. Annie is also a very fine poet and was a concert violinist, while Terry worked as an entomologist for the Royal Alberta Museum until he retired in 2005. We hope you enjoy this joint effort to share our nature musings with anyone who is interested.

Posted on October 21, 2012, in environment, Marine life, Nature, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I can definitely see the pigeon resemblance in your first photo, and all of these are terrific, Terry. I completely agree with your last thought, nature photography or otherwise.

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