Pigeon guillemots are among the most common seabirds in the west, and among the most abundant diving seabirds in Southeast Alaska. They are found from the Bering seacoast in Northern Alaska along the Pacific coastline to Southern California.
Pigeon guillemots are black birds with a distinctive white bar on each wing and bright red legs and feet. In winter, their plumage becomes more mottled, but the white wing bars still stand out. They nest in loose colonies, often above rocky shores.
They are alcids, members of a family of diving birds that includes murres, murrelets, auklets and puffins. Alcids "fly" underwater, swimming with their wings rather than their legs. Guillemots are about a foot long, slightly larger than murrelets. Like murrelets, they sometimes have difficulty taking off, so to escape danger, they are more likely to dive and swim than to take off and fly.
Pigeon guillemots forage closer to shore than other Southeast alcids. There's a good reason for that: Unlike murrelets, which generally forage in the water column and feed on schooling fish such as herring, guillemots usually dive to the seafloor and hunt for fish along the bottom. Blennies, small, eel-like fish, are a favorite food. Guillemots also eat mollusks, crustaceans and marine worms.
One special adaptation for this sea floor foraging is the pigeon guillemots' blood, which is rich in hemoglobin and has the capacity to hold more oxygen than the blood of most seabirds, and to metabolize that oxygen faster.