John McEwen makes a surprising choice for bird of the month
The penguin-like auk, the common guillemot (Uria aalge), is a summer migrant. So why is it our Christmas bird? Answer: Ronald Lockley. He established Britain’s first bird observatory on Skokholm, off Pembrokeshire, in 1933 and wrote in The Island: ‘It was delightful to encounter, on some fine mornings in late December, the guillemots suddenly gathered in hundreds.’ Soon, they performed ‘fascinating water dances, as communal and excitatory as any jungle dance’. The Pembrokeshire locals, who called them ‘eligugs’ after their call, believed they came ‘home for the Christmas celebrations’. By then, the adults are already in their dark chocolate and white breeding finery – the close-knit feathers tight as a pelt – but there is no mating. Performance over, they disappear. ‘It is a near-sexless display of joie de vivre, a midwinter reunion of the auk clans after the five months of the moulting and wandering period… The old hands...
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