EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST
This week, it is Auks
In the UK there are four breeding species of auk. Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins live in colonies in what are called ‘seabird cities’ where several species nest together by and on tall steep cliffs. Black Guillemots breed on boulder strewn shores. In some years, Little Auks are seen mainly at coastal sites after storms at sea. Most of our auk population winter far off shore at sea, returning to the breeding sites in spring.
The classic penguin-like seabird city auk, nesting packed like sardines on impossibly thin ledges on suitable tall cliffs around the country. Guillemots are similar to razorbills but have narrow, pointed bills, browner upperparts (which look black in many lights) and a shorter tail (so the feet project further in the fast-flapping flight).
The beautiful Razorbill usually nests lower down the cliffs than the Guillemot. They are similar but more black and white than brown and white, and have a flattened bill, like a razor shell, or a smaller, black and white version of a Puffin’s bill.
Cavity nesters, including burrows, Puffisn are often found near the top of cliffs. In breeding plumage these small auks are unmistakable. Even at a distance in flight, the pale face and colourful bill is obvious. The bill ‘moult’s slightly in winter, losing size as well as colour and the face darkens.
The delightful Black Guillemot is considerably smaller than the Guileelmot, but with a similar shape. In breeding plmage they are jet black with white a bold white shoulder oval and red legs. In winter they are much whiter, with black and white barred back and black wings still with the white oval. Juvelies are line a browner verson of the witner birds.
The tiny Little Auk is a scarce wind-blown visitor to the UK, usually found after bad weather in the North Sea. They are not much bigger than a Starling, chunky, small-billed and black and white.
All photos from Alamy