Category Archives: Procellariiformes

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.