If you have spent time along California’s rocky coast or in the Bay, you may have noticed a mostly black bird sporting flashy white wing patches. Maybe you saw a bird like this duck quickly into an abandoned pipe on Alcatraz Island?
Or perhaps you noticed a bird’s bright red feet when passing by steep cliffs near Pacifica or Point Reyes? This is the Pigeon Guillemot, or Cepphus columb, a member of the auk family, which is endemic (native) to the North Pacific.
Pigeon Guillemots arrive in California in March and are here through August, until they go north for the remainder of the year. During non-breeding months, adult Pigeon Guillemots look similar to young, immature birds; both have a much less flashy appearance, their plumage mostly white, speckled with gray and black. These birds weigh just over a pound (490 grams) and have a wingspan of 23 inches. Scientists estimate that the total population of Pigeon Guillemots is 235,000 birds, ranging from Alaska to California.
Pigeon Guillemots breed locally and nest in burrows, rock crevices or even in abandoned pipes. Sometimes, catching sight of a bird returning with food in its bill to a crevice is the only indication that a chick might be hiding within. The largest breeding colony is on the Farallon Islands – where more than 3,500 adults gather each year to raise their young. Although their diet can differ with changes in ocean conditions, parents often bring small or juvenile rockfish or sculpin, or even a tiny octopus back to feed their chicks. Parents feed their chicks for four to six weeks before the chicks leave the nest and head out to sea.