Fulmarus glacialis

A couple of weeks ago I posted about my trip to Bempton Cliffs and I showed you the gannets. There were four species of seabird in residence including the gannet, the other three being fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis, Dansk: mallemuk), guillemot (Uria aalge, Dansk: lomvie) and razorbill (Alca torda, Dansk: alk). By the time I got there the only other one on the cliffs was the fulmar, the other two had disappeared out to sea to hunt fish.

The fulmar in flight at Bempton Cliffs

Fulmars are the closest we get in this part of the world to an albatross. They both belong to the ‘tubenoses’, the taxonomic order ‘Procellariiformes‘ and the albatrosses are the family Diomedeidae and the fulmars are the Procellariidae, along with the shearwaters and petrels. The tubenoses have nostrils which also function to excrete salt which is ingested from sea water.

I think these two had the best spot on the cliffs, in their own little cave – as sheltered as it gets up there!

The cliffs are a huge place and there were probably hundreds of fulmars spread out over them and they were constantly taking to the air, looping round and returning, like this one who kept getting a somewhat frosty reception every time it tried to land in this spot:

Fulmars are apparently less than competent on the ground, unlike their cousins the albatrosses (apart from the landings of course), but similarly to the albatrosses they are consummate aeronauts. The winds were ferocious when I was up at Bempton but the birds glided along with little or no effort and never seemed to make a bad landing on the cliffs.

They are particularly long lived birds, the older ones reaching 40 years and beyond. They attain sexual maturity at 9 and they pair for life, breeding in nests on sea cliffs and rocky islands.

This is the northern fulmar and it frequents the extreme latitudes of the northern hemisphere. It’s one of two species, the other being the southern fulmar, Fulmarus glacialoides, which is found in the corresponding extremities of the southern hemisphere and fortunately neither of these species is endangered.

Whilst reading about the taxonomy of the fulmar I got distracted by the albatross which is a bird that has always fascinated me. The facts and figures around albatrosses are mind boggling and the one that made my jaw drop was the wingspan of the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) which can reach up to 3.5m, which is a shade longer than 11 feet! They must be an unforgettable sight.

37 responses to “Fulmarus glacialis

  1. Very interesting bird, Finn…thank you for all of that info…and the amazing images, too. Very nice. 🙂

  2. What an amazing photograph! Also amazing about their lifespan, I never knew a bird could last that long…I wonder if they age in the same way that we do…thinner feathers and aching joints and wrinkly necks 🙂

  3. Those are beautiful birds, and that last photo is exquisite!

  4. Wonderful post, Finn, and an especially beautiful shot of the soaring fulmar. Thanks for the avian info. I sometimes tune in to a puffin loafing ledge live webcam…it’s so fun to watch the birds with the sea in the background.

  5. Wonderful photos! Fulmars always strike me as somehow mysterious, as if they have some sort of contact with another world. I don’t know why I think that, perhaps it’s something to do with their shadowy coloured feathers.

  6. What a striking home for them – and such beautiful captures!!

  7. Fabulous post Finn. Excellent pictures as ever.

  8. Such a fascinating post Finn – both facts and pics. Wonderful pics actually, particularly like the two sheltering in their cave. the cliffs look pretty amazing too. Do the birds make a great noise, and does the sea crash against the cliffs and add to the noise with the wind?
    It all looks pretty spectacular…

    • Hello Valerie, I’ve never been up there in a proper storm but I it can get dramatic up there. (I should try and get there in a proper North Sea gale with Griegs ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ on my iPod 🙂 That would be dramatic).

      The birds do make a noise but they were well spread out and not making the racket I’ve seen in other places. But I imagine in the later spring when the nests are full of chicks and there are much greater numbers of more species the noise may rise to a splendid cacophony.

  9. I love seabirds. You can tell the weather by them. If the seabirds (not sure what they are but they are like your big gulls) fly down the river and are all sitting in the paddocks and fields around Launceston city it is going to be a doozy of a few days weather wise. Steve recently rescued one that had been caught in a fishing net on a hook with his friend Guy. Guy got bitten for his efforts but they managed to free the bird and it has since moved on. Living so close to the sea we get pelicans, cranes and lots of gulls (both the large and smaller Southern Hemisphere gulls). I dare say they aren’t actually “gulls” but never having thought much about them before I can’t say I have ever looked up their scientific name. We saw 5 pink and grey galah’s sitting preening themselves on a telephone pole today and we knew it was time to get ourselves back home quick smart when they refused to budge as we walked our rambunctious dogs past. Usually they would fly screaming off, but they obviously knew better than we did that it was just about to rain heavily and were staying put for the duration. They were right! 😉 Cheers for sharing these magnificent sea birds with us. Its amazing that they live for so long and that they are monogamous. I guess its a similar story for most larger birds.

    • Hello Fran, I know what you mean about gulls. It can be difficult to separate out the species in a flock, there’s lots of them and they can be really difficult to tell apart especially as their plumage changes over their first couple of years.

      I saw the pictures of Guy getting pecked on your blog, I don’t envy him that, I imagine they can deliver a fairly painful strike!

  10. Fantastic shots, Finn! Such interesting facts, too. And yes, the albatross has always fascinated me, too. Great post!

  11. Your two shots of the fulmars in flight are really spectacular, Finn–they really take me away from everyday reality. There’s a colony of wandering albatross on the head near Dunedin, New Zealand that I’ve visited a couple of times, but not for many years. They have one mounted and suspended from the ceiling in the main building. 3.5 meters sounds big in the imagination, but you have to see one to really appreciate their magnificence!

    • Hello Gary,

      NZ… wandering albatross…, I don’t think I’ve ever been more envious. That’s very high on my list of things I have to do, see and photograph. So I shall take your advice at some point and go and see them for myself.

      I’m pleased that was the effect the flying fulmar pictures had because that’s exactly how I felt when I took them. There was just me up there on the cliffs focussing on staying warm and marvelling at the place and the wildlife. A million miles away from everyday humdrum!

      • Finn, I must make a correction–the albatross in the colony on Taiaroa Head near Dunedin are Northern Royal Albattross (Diomedea sanfordi), not wandering albatross. Here’s a link to the Centre: http://www.albatross.org.nz/. I’m afraid they are smaller than the ones you described–their wing spans reach only 3.2 meters!

      • Hello Gary, thanks for the correction, and the link. I’ve bookmarked the link so it’s there when I plan my trip to NZ.

        Only 3.2m? That’s tiny 🙂

  12. This post is very interesting and your photos are gorgeous.

    • Thanks Sam, I was very pleased with the flight pictures. I was using my new camera and lens to do this for the first time so it was all a bit experimental, but I got a few half decent images.

  13. Very interesting, and neat photos!

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