Fulmar – Fulmarus glacialis

Common name: Fulmar or Northern Fulmar; Scientific name: Fulmarus glacialis Welsh name: Aderyn-Drycin y Graig

BTO Conservation Status: AMBER because Recent Breeding Population Decline (1981-2007), Localised Breeding Population

The common name is derived from the Old Norse word ‘full’ meaning foul and ‘mar’ meaning seabird or gull. The foul part refers to the fact that they can spit out a foul-smelling oily fluid to defend their territories from intruders; it’s not all bad though, the oil is also an energy rich food source for chicks and for the adults during their long flights. The glacialis of the scientific name means icy.

They are long-lived, with a lifespan of 40 years not uncommon.

Fulmar sitting on guard

Fulmar sitting on guard

The Fulmar is a bird of the open sea, a ‘tube-nose’ that is a first cousin of the albatross and belonging to the same group of birds as the shearwaters and petrels. They feed at sea  on crustaceans, squid, fish, offal and carrion mostly from the surface.To deal with excesses of salt they take in with their food they have a gland located above the nasal tube through which all the bird’s blood is pumped and the salt removed. The salt-laden discharge runs from the tube nose along a groove in the beak and drips off away from the body, keeping plumage clean.

Fulmar glide effortlessly with stiff wings

Fulmar glide effortlessly with stiff wings

At first sight Fulmars resemble gulls but seen more closely are distinguished by the shape of their beak which has a tube-shaped proturberance on the top and a thicker neck. They have long, narrow wings and fly low over the sea on stiff wings, with shallow wingbeats, gliding and banking to show its white underparts then grey upperparts.

Head on the Fulmar is sleek and has a blade-like profile

Head on the Fulmar is sleek and has an almost blade-like profile

At its breeding sites it will fly high up the cliff face, riding the updraughts.

Flying in to land

Flying in to land showing underside

Nesting sites are deserted in September and Fulmars are usually absent offshore during October and November. Their absence from the breeding cliffs is short-lived as by late November or early December the birds are back prospecting around the nesting sites.

Both of the pair calling

Both of a pair calling noisily

The nest itself may be nothing more elaborate than a depression in bare rock or a scrape in turf, although they are sometimes lined with a few pebbles.