Guillemots and Razorbills

The auks, which include guillemots, razorbills and puffins, are somewhat reminiscent of the penguin, with their incredible ability to dive gracefully under the water to astonishing depths of up to 200m. They use their wings to propel themselves under the water and are infinitely more at home in the water than in the air. They have short wings in relation to their body size, which are much more effective underwater than in the air and, whilst they have not lost the art of flight, they are not particularly aerodynamic creatures. In flight they have to beat their wings incredibly fast to stay airborne like the puffin, which flaps its wings 400 times a minute and which requires significantly more energy to stay airborne than other species of birds.

Guillemots and razorbills will lay a single egg, usually in May, which will hatch after a 30-day incubation period. Both species lay their eggs directly onto narrow rock ledges on the sea cliffs of Pembrokeshire, although they choose different areas of cliff on which to breed. Razorbills will tuck themselves into little nooks and crannies and around cave entrances in a bid to deter predators, whereas guillemots employ a ‘safety in numbers’ approach; cramming as many birds as they can onto a long, narrow ledge on the sheer cliffs in the hope that large-winged predators, such as gulls, ravens and peregrines, will struggle to land on them. They then face the cliffs, incubating the egg on their feet, and presenting an army of backs to predators. Three weeks after hatching, the young auks, still only a third of the size of the adult bird and little more than bundles of fluff, are apparently ready to leave the island. This involves an enormous leap of faith, quite literally, as they have to launch themselves off cliff ledges which are often a couple of hundred feet high, hence their name, ‘jumplings’. The father will come down onto the water and call to the chick, who will jump off. Once airborne, it will discover it can’t fly and will tumble, glide and occasionally bounce its way down to the water. Father and chick will then need to locate each other before swimming out to sea together.

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