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The Guillemots are back

Published: 29 November 2022

Given the horrors of bird flu last year it's great to see so many Guillemots back on the cliffs today. It gives us hope for the forthcoming breeding season.

Guillemots at Sumburgh Head. Photo by Ross Mackenzie


Guillemots pair for life but spend the winters apart so by visiting the colony early they can maintain the pair bond and defend their favoured nest site which they will occupy again next breeding season. During the 70s, 80s and 90s birds typically first returned to the cliffs on fine days in October - indeed in 1974 they were back on 7 October. In recent years, however, birds have returned later and late November is now a typical date.

Breeding too now takes place later and birds are often on the cliffs until late July. Once they leave the colony the male accompanies the young bird which is flightless so it takes the opportunity to moult - replace all its feathers. Today is probably the first time he has seen his partner since he left.

Paul Harvey, Shetland Amenity Trust, Natural Heritage Project Officer