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Black Guillemot - BirdForum Opus

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Breeding plumage adult
Photo © by AlanBatt
Isle of North Uist, Outer Hebrides, 24 May 2004

Alternative name: Tystie

Cepphus grylle


Length 33 cm (13"), wingspan 53 cm (21"), weight 430 g

  • Chunky
  • Round-winged seabird

Adult summer

  • All black except white upperwing coverts
  • Bright red legs and gape

Adult winter and juvenile

  • Mainly white, mottled black above; much whiter above than any other Atlantic Ocean auk

Similar Species

Winger plumage
Photo © by IanF
South Gare, Redcar, Cleveland UK, 8 January 2007

Appearance, voice, and behaviour almost identical to Pigeon Guillemot which has all dark underwings and usually a dark wedge across the white patch on its upperwing.


Breeds in Greenland, Iceland and the Faroes, Jan Mayen, Bear Island, Svalbard and Franz Josef Land, north and west Britain and Ireland, around the north coasts of the Baltic and islands in the Kattegat, coastal Norway to the Murmansk Coast and the White Sea, and on Kolguyev and Novaya Zemlya. They also breed in northeastern North America, from Ellesmere Island, Canada, south to Maine, USA. Most populations are resident with little or no movement away from breeding sites but in the far north most birds move southwards. Birds from Finland and Gulf of Bothnia winter mainly off south-east Sweden. Occasionally seen south of main range in winter, annually recorded in Netherlands, more rarely south to northern France and Belgium and exceptionally recorded in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Recently recorded off Spain.


Breeding plumage adult in flight
Photo &copy: by psilo
Southern Ireland, 30 June 2006

Five subspecies currently recognized[1]. Separation at sea is rarely possible.
Most distinctive is C. g. mandtii from Jan Mayen, Bear Island and Svalbard, with whiter upperparts in non-breeding plumage. Remaining races, nominate C. g. grylle from the Baltic, C. g. arcticus from British Isles to arctic Russia, C. g. faroeensis from Faroes and C. g. islandicus from Iceland are all very similar, differing only in minor measurements.


Colonial breeder in boulder piles at the base of cliffs and on scree-covered slopes on low rocky islands and coasts. Winters mainly in sheltered bays close to breeding site.


Not particularly sociable, rarely seen in large groups or with other auks.


They breed singly or in small scattered colonies and lay their eggs in rocky crevices near water.


The diet includes fish and crustaceans, molluscs, and cephalopods.


A weak high-pitched whistle

In culture

The alternative name Tystie, popular in Britain, is an Old Norse name, cognate with the species' name in most Scandinavian countries (Danish Tejst, Faeroese Teisti, Norwegian Teiste, Icelandic Teista).


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Arthur Grosset's Birds
  3. Butler, R. G. and D. E. Buckley (2002). Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.675
  4. Nettleship, D.N., Boesman, P. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2018). Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/54063 on 31 August 2018).

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