Common (Uria aalge) and Brünnich's guillemots (U. Iomvia) are colonial seabirds that nest in temperate to arctic oceans throughout the Northern hemisphere. They are very similar in the characteristics of ecology, demography and life history that are thought to determine the extent of differentiation among populations, yet geographic variation in morphology is notably greater in common guillemots. Despite evidence of strong natal philopatry, previous analyses of allozymes and the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene revealed little genetic differentiation among North Atlantic colonies of Brünnich's guillemots. To determine if the more extensive morphological variability in common guillemots reflects greater genetic variability, we sequenced part of the cytochrome b gene for 160 common guillemots from 10 colonies distributed throughout the Northern hemisphere. Genotype frequencies and phylogenetic relationships among genotypes both indicated that Atlantic and Pacific populations are genetically distinct. Genetic divergence among genotypes suggested that differentiation of these populations has resulted from separation by Pleistocene glaciers and the Bering Landbridge, as well as by currently unsuitable breeding habitat in the Arctic Ocean. Cytochrome b genotype frequencies also differed among Atlantic colonies, and appeared to define a cline similar to that described for morphological characters. Analyses of sequence variation suggested that this variation probably results from secondary contact between two refugial populations from the Pleistocene glaciations, rather than from isolation by distance or selection. In contrast, the Atlantic population of Brünnich's guillemots appears to have arisen through recent expansion of a single homogeneous refugial population.