The Northern fulmar is a medium-sized, highly abundant seabird that looks similar to a gull but can be easily identified by the tubular nostrils that sit above its beak. It is a long-lived bird that can reach the age of 50 years in the wild. Its stomach contents are an indicator of marine debris and a recent study found that almost 90% of fulmars’ stomachs contained microplastics ingested via its food sources.
Breeding birds: 500,000 pairs
Wintering birds: 1.6 – 1.8 million birds
Family: Shearwaters & petrels
Light morph fulmars have grey upperparts with a slight scaled pattern, and grey upperwings with darker flight feathers and trailing edges. The tail has grey uppertail coverts and white rectrices, and the underparts are white.
The head is white except for a dark patch in front of the eye. They have a strong, thick, yellow bill with dark yellow ‘nostrils’ or tubenose on the upper mandible. The eyes are dark brown and the legs and feet are pink.
Dark or “blue” morph fulmars are grey all over. Males and females are similar but the male is slightly larger.
Juvenile fulmars resemble the adult.
Fulmars start breeding in May. They are monogamous and mate for life and nest in loose colonies. The nest is a scrape in rock, sometimes lined with pebbles or vegetation, situated on a narrow ledge or crevice of a cliff face.
Fulmars lay a single white egg which is incubated by both parents, taking turns for 37-53 days. The chick is covered in pale grey down and both parents brood it for the first 2 weeks. They feed it an oily substance, regurgitated from partially digested food. It fledges at about 46-53 days after hatching. It reaches sexual maturity at 9 years old.
Fulmars eat mainly fish, squid, zooplankton, fish offal, carrion, and whale blubber.
Fulmars can be seen all year round in the UK. Out of breeding season they life offshore but during breeding season look out for them on cliff sites, particularly around the Scottish coastline.
The fulmar’s genus name Fulmarus is derived from an Old Norse word for ‘foul gull’ in relation to the foul-smelling stomach oil it spits to deter predators. The species name, glacialis means icy.