Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Northern Fulmar

Fulmarus glacialis

Patterned somewhat like a gull but very different in flight behavior, the fulmar flies fast with quick wingbeats and stiff-winged glides, wheeling effortlessly in strong winds, often swinging up in high arcs over the waves. In North America, it breeds mainly in high Arctic Canada and on islands in the Bering Sea.
Conservation status Population in eastern part of North Atlantic (Iceland to Europe) has been increasing and spreading dramatically since the late 1700s. Expansion possibly linked to habit of following ships and feeding on offal. No such increase noted in western North Atlantic until 1960s and 1970s, when fulmars began to breed in Newfoundland, but apparently now increasing off eastern North America.
Family Shearwaters and Petrels
Habitat Open ocean; breeds colonially on open sea cliffs. Generally over cold waters, including around edges of pack ice in Arctic Ocean. Also south into temperate waters (especially around European nesting sites, and in winter off North America's west coast). Widespread at sea, often concentrated over outer continental shelf, upwellings.
Patterned somewhat like a gull but very different in flight behavior, the fulmar flies fast with quick wingbeats and stiff-winged glides, wheeling effortlessly in strong winds, often swinging up in high arcs over the waves. In North America, it breeds mainly in high Arctic Canada and on islands in the Bering Sea.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, Pacific, dark morph
  • adult, Pacific, light morph
  • adult, Atlantic
  • adult, Pacific, dark morph
  • adult, Atlantic, light morph
  • adult, Pacific, light morph
  • adult, Pacific, light morph
  • adult, Pacific, light morph
  • adult, Atlantic
Feeding Behavior

Forages by seizing items at or just below surface of water while swimming. Also plunges into water and dives (to 12' or more below surface), propelled by feet and half-opened wings. May feed by day or night.


Eggs

One. White. Incubation is by both sexes, usually 49-53 days. Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. One of the parents is usually present at nest for first 2 weeks after hatching; both adult and young can defend against intruders by spitting foul-smelling oil. Age at first flight 41-57 days, usually 46-51.


Young

Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. One of the parents is usually present at nest for first 2 weeks after hatching; both adult and young can defend against intruders by spitting foul-smelling oil. Age at first flight 41-57 days, usually 46-51.

Diet

Varied, includes crustaceans, fish. Feeds on a wide variety of marine creatures including crustaceans, small squid, marine worms, fish, and carrion. Follows fishing boats and other ships and feeds on offal, scraps, refuse. In North Pacific also noted feeding on jellyfish.


Nesting

First breeds at age of 6-12 years. Breeds in colonies. Unlike many related birds, fulmars are active around nesting colonies in daylight. Birds at nest site display in variety of situations by opening bill wide, waving head back and forth while calling. Mated pairs nibble at each other's head and bill. Nest: Site is on ledge of cliff, or hollow in bank or slope. No nest formed on rock ledge, but on soil makes shallow scrape, sometimes adding pebbles as lining.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

Some may remain in winter as far north as there is open water. Others move south, commonly reaching latitude of New England on Atlantic Coast, southern California on Pacific Coast. Numbers on southerly winter range highly variable from year to year. Some may remain well southward into summer, especially after large winter invasions.

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Migration

Some may remain in winter as far north as there is open water. Others move south, commonly reaching latitude of New England on Atlantic Coast, southern California on Pacific Coast. Numbers on southerly winter range highly variable from year to year. Some may remain well southward into summer, especially after large winter invasions.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Chuckling and grunting notes when feeding; various guttural calls during breeding season.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.