News & Events

Photo Feature: Pigeon Guillemot Courtship

Author: Jefferson Land Trust | 05/29/24

Two birds on a rock

Hillary Smith is a Land Trust volunteer, nature photographer, and volunteer for the Salish Sea Guillemot Network. She captured these photos while observing Pigeon Guillemot courtship behavior along a shoreline in Jefferson County this spring. Thanks to Hillary for sharing these wonderful photographs with us!

These photos show Pigeon Guillemots in their beautiful nearly black breeding plumage with distinctive white wing patches and vivid red feet and mouths.

Two birds on a rock

Pre-copulation circling.

Each year, as Pigeon Guillemot breeding season approaches, the adult birds return from their wintering areas to pair bond through a variety of courtship rituals, including singing; circling each other; playfully chasing each other around on the water; and billing, when a mated pair holds their open beaks close together.

Bird with open mouth on rock.

“Hunch-whistles” are another courtship behavior.

For more than 20 years, the Salish Sea Guillemot Network has conducted annual monitoring of Pigeon Guillemot breeding colonies. Volunteer citizen scientists like Hillary (and our Communication Manager Stephanie!) visit each colony weekly for one hour. They count the birds, map nest cavities, record disturbances, and identify prey (fish) delivered to the chicks. Pigeon Guillemots haven’t been the focus of much research in the Salish Sea region. These monitoring efforts help to fill this gap, increase awareness of coastal bluff processes, and foster stewardship of nearshore marine environments.

To learn more about Pigeon Guillemot surveys in Jefferson County, check out two episodes of the Nature Now radio broadcast on KPTZ. They were produced by Dr. Jackie Canterbury — a local ornithologist, a Pigeon Guillemot survey volunteer, a Land Trust supporter, and one of the hosts of Nature Now. Find the recordings at:

Would you like to participate in this long-running community science project? Volunteers are still needed for the 2024 breeding season! If you’re interested, email Dr. Brenda Johnson, Regional Coordinator of the east Jefferson County guillemot surveys, at bsjohnson1[at], with the subject: Pigeon Guillemot Survey 2024.

Two birds on a rock