At a Glance

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.
Gull-like Birds, Shearwaters and Petrels
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Open Ocean
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Southeast, Western Canada
Flap/Glide, Soaring

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


18" (46 cm). Like a stocky, big-headed shearwater with a very thick yellow bill. Overall color is highly variable. Has dark and light morphs as well as many intermediates. Pattern of light birds might suggest a gull, but note the fulmar's stubby bill, very different flight style (quick flaps and stiff-winged glide, with wings held flat and straight).
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Gray, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Rounded, Short
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Chuckling and grunting notes when feeding; various guttural calls during breeding season.
Call Pattern
Call Type
Rattle, Raucous, Scream


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.



One. White. Incubation is by both sexes, usually 49-53 days.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Northern Fulmar. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Northern Fulmar

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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