Guillemot – 1894

Lomvia troile – Resident.

The Common Guillemot is the well-known “Eligoog” of Pembrokeshire; the Stack Rocks, on which they nest in such numbers as almost completely to cover them, being often called “the Eligoog Stacks.” What we have written above with respect to the Razorbill, applies almost in so many words to the present species. It is to be found upon all the islands, on some of them, as upon Ramsey, in extraordinary numbers, and upon some of the cliffs of the mainland.

Three parts of the year the Guillemots, as well as the other cliff birds, are dispersed upon the open sea. They only resort to the islands and cliffs for the summer months for the purpose of rearing their young. We have visited the Stack Rocks in the early spring before the birds had arrived upon them, only to find a few Herring Gulls and Kittiwakes perched on their ledges, a Shag or two on the rocks just above the sea level, and a pair of otters disporting themselves among the waves that lapped their base. A few weeks later, and there would have been a transformation scene! The Stacks would have been white with birds, the waters in their neighbourhood would have been dotted over by little parties diving and fishing, and there would have been an almost deafening noise proceeding from the multitude of birds.

The Stacks are two in number, distant some sixty or seventy yards only from the shore, and reach in height almost to the level of the cliff on whose top the spectator stands. The largest of them is said to be only about thirty yards across on the summit, and they both present the appearance of rocky towers rising out of the water. The birds cover them from top to bottom, and are huddled together on their tops as close together as they can pack, but as the spaces after all are small, the total number of birds cannot be large, and there is not on these Stacks and on the cliffs in their neighbourhood, any more than a mere fraction of the immense numbers to be found on Ramsey or Skomer, where the birds are distributed over a great length of cliffs. But even on these two islands the birds are not found everywhere, having their favourite cliffs, which are densely thronged with them, while others are quite destitute of birds. Mr. Dix rowed round the Stack Rocks one day, to discover that the Guillemots were more numerous on their ledges fronting the sea than they were on those turned towards the land, although even on these the numbers were astounding.

Like the other diving birds that pursue the fish beneath the water, the Guillemots use their wings, and may be said to fly under the waves. One is able to form some idea of the vast myriads of fish the seas around our coasts must contain, when we consider the millions of birds that are daily feeding upon them. No amount of netting by fishermen is likely to produce any impression upon the shoals of fish ; the only injury that man can inflict upon them is in dredging the spawning beds. If only these could be left in quiet, there would be no danger of our fish supply becoming exhausted, however persistent and united the attacks made upon it by larger fish, seals, birds, and fishermen.

The variety called the Bridled Guillemot (once held to be a distinct species, and called Lomvia lacrymans), that has a white line curving a short distance down the neck on either side from the eye, occurs occasionally among the other Guillemots, but is rare; Mr. Mathias includes it in his list. On each of our visits to the breeding stations of the birds, we have kept a close watch for it, but among the thousands of Guillemots we have closely approached on their ledges, we have never succeeded in detecting one.

The eggs of the Common Guillemot are well known for their beauty, and one or two are generally carried away by visitors to the Stacks as ” curios.” Some very beautiful varieties may be picked out from among them, and we are not a little proud of our own series procured from Ramsey and Lundy. The farmers around St. David’s are said to feed their calves in the summer with a custard made from the “Eligoogs'” eggs obtained on Ramsey.

In the winter time we have seen numerous Common Guillemots far up the Bristol Channel, off Clevedon and Portishead, and often when we have been crossing the ferry to Port Skewet, in company with Razorbills.

Mathew M.A. 1894, Birds of Pembrokeshire and its Islands

More about the Guillemot in Pembrokeshire