Although Pigeon Guillemots can dive at least 150 feet deep, they prefer to fish shallower waters, That puts them in the range of eel-grass-loving Crescent Gunnels such as this bright red specimen. Note the white wing patch and the coral-red legs. (Chignik Lagoon, July 28, 2020)
They aren’t the most abundant bird of the nearshore marine waters of the Alaska Gulf, but they are probably one of the most often encountered. Pigeon Guillemots do their best fishing in relatively shallow waters. Thus they are often seen from shorelines and docks as well as from small boats cruising coastal waters.
From a distance, Pigeon Guillemots often appear to be black, but they’re actually a variable chocolate brown. The plumage of breeding birds appears darker. Additionally, the insides of the bills of breeding birds is brilliant red. (Chignik Bay, July 28, 2020)
Members of the auk, murre and puffin family (alcidae), guillemots nest in rocky cliffs where they can hide one or two eggs in crevices, borrows or among boulders. Unlike most other alcids, they fly well and are able walkers on land. About 50% of the world’s Pigeon Guillemot population, estimated at around 235,000, breed in Alaska.
Along with puffins, murres and other seabirds, Pigeon Guillemots are known to nest on the Semidi Islands, located in the Alaska Gulf approximately 68 miles from Chignik Bay (the village of Chignik). Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the young, which scramble, fall or flutter to the sea a month or two after hatching. They young birds can swim and dive as soon as they’re in the water, but it will be another two or three weeks before they are proficient fliers.
The Semidi Island lie approximately 68 miles from the village of Chignik in Chignik Bay. Part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, these rugged, uninhabited islands provide critical habitat for nesting seabirds as well as marine mammals. Aghiyuk is the smaller of the two main islands, Chowiet is the larger. (©2021 TerraMetrics Map Data, Google Maps)
Pigeon Guillemot Cepphus columba
Genus: Cepphus – from Greek kepphos for a waterbird described by Aristotle
Species: columba – from Icelandic klumba = auk and Latin columba = pigeon
Status in Marine Waters near Chignik: Common
David Narver, Birds of the Chignik River Drainage, summers 1960-63: Not observed, as this is a marine species
Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuge Bird List, 2010:
Uncommon in all Seasons
© Photographs, images and text by Jack Donachy unless otherwise noted.
For a list of reference materials used in this project, see: Birds of Chignik Lake