Saturday, 9 August 2014

SATURDAY CRITTERS - Black Guillemot Chicks at Bangor Harbour

For one hundred years Black Guillemots have made their homes around Bangor harbour.  The little auks with their distinctive black and white plumage and bright red legs, feet and throats have been fondly nicknamed "Bangor Penguins" by residents.  Unlike penguins, the Black Guillemots can fly - a frantic skittering across the waves as they head for their nests in the breeding season.

Dr Julian Greenwood of Stranmillis College has studied the Black Guillemots in Bangor for over 30 years and this year invited  me to join him while he ringed some of the chicks.  He rings and records the birds which have made their homes in convenient crevices around Bangor Bay and in the holes specially created by North Down Council and the Marine authorities in the piers when the harbour area was redeveloped.

There were 40 pairs bred last year and 32 pairs attempted breeding this year. The winter storms may have caused some loss over the winter so reducing the population - but populations undergo some variation anyway.

Yesterday was when I really started this post and showed you the boat we were on and harbour where we were ringing the Black Guillemots.  This is one kind of nest box that has been erected however this year, although the birds laid eggs in them, a lot of them were predated, probably by Hooded Crows.

This was another type of nest box and these all had chick in them.  There are 27 boxes on the Central pier, 15 on North Pier and a number of concrete holes in the North Pier and Long Hole.  There are 30 more boxes waiting to be erected so that there will be even more for the birds next year.

They are put in this bag when first caught and then weighed.  Julian ringed 9 chicks and 1 adult that day.  The chicks were between 1 and 2 weeks old and their weight varied.  The lowest weight was 210g and the heaviest was 360g.

Each bird has a metal ring which stays on for life.  If they are old enough, perhaps over 2 weeks old, then they also have a yellow band on the other leg.

I did all the documentation when Julian did the ringing.

You need to keep your hand well away from their beak as they can give you a nasty stab.

I took this show to show you that the bird had started to develop the white under its wing. You will see an adult wing later in the post.

We mostly found single chicks in each nest box.

Sometimes we found twins.

Aren’t they cute?

Who’s lookin’ at me baby?

This was the heaviest chick and it has a lot of fat already on its belly.  In fact they grow to 450g before they fledge and fly away when they are 5 weeks old.  An adult bird weighs about 400g normally.

These are the nest holes in the concrete on the North Pier and the chicks are right at the end of them so Julian has to get his whole arm in up to his shoulders if he has any chance of catching them.

This shot was taken between the pier and the boat and you can see the adult Black Guillemots in their nest holes.

This is the yellow ring I mentioned to you.

Some of the adult Black Guillemots wondering what we are doing.

We had our life jackets on and I noticed the life belt on board however it was a perfect day for this job and none of the equipment was needed.

This was Davy who skillfully manoeuvred the boat into the correct position.

This was the last bird caught that day and it was an adult
 that has not been ringed previously.

This is the adult’s white underwing.

This is the adult’s white upperwing.

Once a Black Guillemot comes to nest here, it will always come back here to nest.  When the chicks leave at 5 weeks, they do not come back for 3 years and may not return to where they were born although often they do.

Yes, it did launch its beak into Julian and did draw blood.

A better behaved bird now.

Job well done and we headed over to the Marina  gangway.  

It was a privilege to come out with Julian and see how our ’Bangor Penguins’ were caught and ringed and I thank him sincerely for taking me along.  I hope it will not be the last time I can help in this manner.

I leave you with 4 adult Black Guillemots swimming about the harbour.  I hope you enjoyed seeing this post and perhaps learning a little bit about a wonderful little bird.
I have a short video which I put together of clips not only from that day but a few from last year to give those people who have never seen these birds a better change of knowing them.  You can access it at

If there is a black space below, click it and the video will appear.

 I am linking this post with SATURDAY CRITTERS.

Thank you for your visit. 

Many thanks to all who left comments on any of my posts.


  1. Splendid post - the scribes who write down all the birds data are the un-sung heroes of bird banding!!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  2. A fascinating post about ringing the birds. Those chicks are so fluffy and adorable. Amazing that the adults nest in cement walls.

  3. A wonderful post, Margaret! The fluffy chicks are adorable.

  4. Great shots of entire exercise. Cute birds.

  5. Margaret, this is an awesome post. I loved seeing the chicks and the Guillemots at their nest..and to watch the ringing process. It is sad to hear some of the nest were robbed by the crows.. Great photos, happy weekend!

  6. Such and interesting and informative post. - Thanks for sharing this!

  7. Excellent documentation of this activity. We only saw Pigeon Guillemots in southern Alaska-- they are very similar but most have a black band partially across the white patch. Hope your camera is drying out in time for your next sortie.

  8. Marvelous photos and a very interesting post. It is great that so much is being done for these wonderful birds.

  9. Very interesting . . . great post . . .
    Brave you are . . . their beak looks like it could give quite the poke.
    Interesting how the white on their wing appears so centered uniquely . . .

  10. Very interesting post and great photos, Margaret. I believe one day I'd like to do some "bird ringing". Have a great Saturday!

  11. I agree with Stewart that this was a "splendid" post. I think seeing the bird banding in person would be very special!

  12. Awesome post. Bird ringing is still not common here.
    Thanks for stopping by.

  13. Those chicks are so cute! Interesting post and you supplemented it with fabulous photos.

  14. Thanks for taking along on this fabulous opportunity. I'm glad you got to have an active role in the experts work.

  15. gorgeous post. Love this bird but have only seen it in Scotland. :)

  16. Hello Margaret!
    As usual, a very interesting post !!!
    Your photos are very beautiful.
    You are doing a lot for all the birds.

  17. Beautiful photography as always and very informative post ~

    artmusedog and carol (A Creative Harbor)

  18. I love Black Guillemots. They are so cool and one of my favorites! I finally got to see them in action this summer....and nice to see the chicks:)

  19. How exciting to help with the banding. The chicks are so cute! happy critter day.

  20. I am so torn, Margaret. I appreciate that research was needed and has increased our knowledge, but wonder if we have gone overboard. I find it hard to think about how stressful this process is for the birds. I have seen some with terribly cumbersome looking rings. That said, this was a most informative and beautifully documented account of Julian's passionate interest and hard work to further our understanding of wildlife.

  21. Love reading about the Black Guillemots. Such gorgeous birds---and I am so glad that you all are marking them and getting the necessary info on them. SO educational... Thanks!!!

    Loved all of the nests...


  22. Wonderful post about birds... The chicks are so adorable...

  23. A very interesting post! And such a great series of photos! Thank you for sharing!

  24. Oh My!!! What an lovey and adorable babies of Black Guillemot and important mission.
    Sending you Lots of Love and Hugs from Japan, xoxo Miyako*

  25. The fat chick is so cute. His wings and big feet are lovely. You catch absolutely everything! Even the bite! What a cool shot! I bet you even had a band-Aid n your pocket!

  26. What a wonderful thing to do Margaret - lucky you being involved in the project!
    The chicks are so vulnerable.
    Amazing photos for Saturdays Critters - thanks for sharing with us.

  27. they are cute and what an interesting post. i really enjoyed it!!!!!