Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)

"The Fulmar is of voracious appetite, feeding upon all sorts of animal substance, particularly of an oily nature, such as the blubber of whales, seals, etc.; and for this purpose it follows in great numbers the track of the whale vessels, and is so greedy of its favourite food, as to be often seen alighting upon the wounded animal, when not quite dead, and immediately proceeding to break the skin with its strong hooked bill, and gorging itself with the blubber to repletion."
Selby quoted by John James Audubon (1840) in his Birds of America, Vol. VII.


Three subspecies:
F. g. glacialis - North Atlantic, high Arctic in NE Greenland, Spitzbergen, Devon, Baffin and Bear Islands, Franz Joseph Land and Nova Zemlya.
F. g. auduboni - North Atlantic, NW Greenland, Newfoundland, Jan Mayen, Iceland, The Faroes, Britain, NW France, and Heligoland in Germany.
F. g. rodgersii - North Pacific, Sea of Okhotsk, Kamchatka Peninsula, Commander Islands, Kurile Islands, Aleutian Islands, s. Alaskan Peninsula.

Also known as Arctic Fulmar or Common Fulmar.

Dark-morph of 'Pacific' Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis rodgersii). The majority of Fulmars in Aleutians are of this uniformly dark coloration. Taken in the immense fulmar colonies on Chagulak, Aleutian Islands, June 1997. Photograph copyright of Angus Wilson©, 1999.


A large chunky petrel. Flight action recalls albatrosses more than shearwaters, with several rapid beats followed by long glides. Wings held very stiff. May glide effortlessly on wind currents and updrafts along cliffs. Unlike most tubenoses, will visit nesting ledges during the day. Highly sociable, sometimes forming huge rafts. Regular scavanger behined boats.

Where and When

Common in seas of northwestern Europe, nesting on the coasts of Britain, Iceland, Norway, northern France, the island of Heligoland off Germany and even Denmark. Will nest on coastal cliffs as well as buildings. For example, easily seen flying over the city of Edinburgh to nesting sites on the inland volcanic plug known as Arthur's Seat (pers. obs.).

During the north Pacific winter, birds range through the ice-free waters and even within the ice front. During the summer, non-breeders or failed-breeders range as far north as the ice edge of the Chuckchi Sea. Become more common in the northern portion of the Bering Sea during late summer and fall. Light phase birds are more abundant than dark-phase near the Bering Straits.

"Fulmars are extremely greedy of the fat of the whale. Though few should be seen when a whale is about being captured, yet, as soon as the flensing process commences, they rush in from all quarters, and frequently accumulate to many thousands in number. They then occupy the greasy track of the ship; and, being audaciously greedy, fearlessly advance within a few yards of the men employed in cutting up the whale. If, indeed, the fragments of fat do not float sufficiently away, they approach so near the scene of operations, that they are knocked down with boat hooks in great numbers, and sometimes taken up by the hand. The sea immediately about the ship's stern is sometimes so completely covered with them, that a stone can scarcely be thrown overboard without striking one of them. When any thing is thus cast among them, those nearest the spot where it falls take the alarm, and these exciting some fear in others more remote, sometimes put a thousand of them in motion; but as, in rising into the air, they assist their wings, for the first few yards, by striking the water with their feet, there is produced by such a number of them, a loud and most singular splashing. It is highly amusing to observe the voracity with which they seize the pieces of fat that fall in their way; the size and quantity of the pieces they take at a meal; the curious chuckling noise which in their anxiety for dispatch they always make; and the jealousy with which they view, and the boldness with which they attack, any of this species that are engaged in devouring the finest morsels. They frequently glut themselves so completely, that they are unable to fly; in which case, when they are not relieved by a quantity being disgorged, they endeavour to get on the nearest piece of ice, where they rest until the advancement of digestion restores their wonted powers. Then, if opportunity admit, they return with the same gust to the banquet as before; and though numbers of the species may be killed, and allowed to float about among them, they appear unconscious of danger to themselves. "
Rev. Scoresbey quoted by John James Audubon (1840) in his Birds of America, Vol. VII.

Photographs on the web

Adult dark-pahse on water.From Gulf of Alaska. Photo by John Wallace.

Small series of
1, 2,3 shots of dark-phase of Pacific form. Photos by Ryan Shaw.

In flight Photograph by Monte Taylor, taken off California.

Nesting Atlantic Fulmar. From the birds of Foula, Shetland web site.

Atlantic Fulmar in flight. Photo by Steve Kerr posted on the FONT web site.


Fisher, J. (1952) The Fulmar. Collins, London.
Fisher, J. (1966) The Fulmar population of Britain and Ireland, 1959. Bird Study 13: 5-76.

Copyright © 1999 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson

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