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Northern Fulmar

These seabirds are common across the northern hemisphere.

The Northern Fulmar occupies northern marine coasts, and occurs in widely variable color morphs ranging from mostly white to mostly dark and many gradations in between. Northern Fulmars don’t typically breed until age eight, nine, or ten, and they only lay one egg per nest. To overcome these limitations, Northern Fulmars live unusually long lives for a bird, in some cases over 50 years.

Northern Fulmars breed in large colonies and defend only a small area around their nest site. They engage in a practice called visiting, in which an unmated bird or a neighbor approaches a nest site and engages in mostly friendly displays with the resident pair. Because fulmars live long lives and often return to previous nest sites, they become very familiar with their neighbors.


Description of the Northern Fulmar


The Northern Fulmar has long, narrow wings and is a member of the tubenose family of seabirds that has nostril tubes on top of their bills. Light morphs are gray above and whitish below, while dark morphs are dark grayish-brown.

Northern Fulmar

Photograph © Greg Lavaty


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles are similar to adults.


Oceans and sea cliffs.


Crustaceans and fish.

Northern Fulmar

Photograph © Greg Lavaty


Forages by gathering food from the water’s surface, or by plunge-diving.


Breeds off the northern east and west coasts of North America, and winters offshore somewhat farther south.

Fun Facts

Young chicks are brooded by one parent while the other is out foraging.

Northern Fulmars usually retain the same mate, although if a chick is not successfully raised in a breeding season they may change mates.


Cackling and grunting calls are occasionally given.


Similar Species

  • Gulls lack tubular nostrils and do not fly with stiff wingbeats the way fulmars do.


The nest is simply a bare cliff ledge.

Number: 1.
Color: White.

Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 49-53 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) in 41-57 days after hatching.


Bent Life History of the Northern Fulmar

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Northern Fulmar – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.



The fulmar is a distinctly pelagic species of arctic seas, where it is ever associated with drifting icebergs and floating pack ice. Like the albatross it spends much of its time on the wing and is particularly active in rough and stormy weather. It is the constant companion of the arctic whalers and is well known to the hardy explorers who risk their lives in dangerous northern seas, where it follows the ships to gorge itself on what scraps it can pick up, rests to digest its unsavory food on some rugged block of ice and retires to some lonely crag to rear its young. There is little that is attractive in its surroundings at any time, in the forbidding climate of the rugged, frozen north, but there it seems to live and flourish, rising successful and triumphant over adverse conditions.

Spring: On the north coast of Labrador late in the spring, and even early in the summer, fulmars are often seen and are sometimes quite abundant from the Straits of Belle Isle northward to Cape Chidley. Mr. Lucien M. Turner, in his unpublished notes, writes:

When the fog lifted great streams of this species could be seen moving either southward or northward. Huge icebergs had their tops fairly alive with these birds, riding slowly to the southward, to which direction they advanced until far enough, and then returning to repeat the trip If opportunity occurred.

These were probably migrating birds, for no breeding grounds have yet been discovered on the Labrador coast, and Turner found them very scarce after entering Hudson Straits. Audubon (1840) mentions a migratory .flight on the coast of Greenland, quoting the remarks of Captain Sabine, as follows:

Whilst the ships were detained by the ice in Jacobs Bay, in latitude 71~ from the 24th of June to the 3d of July, fulmars were passing in a continued stream to the northward, in numbers inferior only to the flight of the passenger pigeon in America.

Nesting: Probably the southernmost breeding colonies on the western side of the Atlantic are those mentioned by Kumlien (1879), as follows:

I also procured a few that were ashy; these I presumed were young birds; but in July, 1878, 1 found a few of these dark colored ones, darker than any I ever saw in fall, breeding near Quickstep Harbor, in Cumberland, on some small, rocky islan(ls. When fresh these dark-colored birds have a bright olive. green gloss, especially apparent on the neck and back. The bill is shorter, stouter, and thicker, dusky brown instead of yellow. On Blue Mountain, Ovifak, Greenland, these birds breed by myriads to tie very summit of the mountain, about 2,000 feet. Here I could see but fexv dark brds; even the fuU-fiedged nestlings were white.

In Exeter Sound and to the northward along the west shores of Davis Straits and Baffin’s Bay, the dark variety seems to predominate. Near Cape Searle they are extraordinarily abundant, breeding by thousands on the Padlie Island, and they are so tame about their nesting places that they can be killed with a stick. The eggs, even after being blown, for many months still retain the musky odor peculiar to the birds. Perfectly fresh eggs are quite good eating but if a couple of days oid the musky odor has so permeated them, even the albumen, that they are a little too much for a civilized palate.

Nelson (1883) writes that:

It breeds abundantly on Bear Island (near Spltzbergen) on some of the sloping cliffs not difficult of access. One case is mentioned where on May 26, 1876, the eggs were seen deposited directly upon the bare ice which covered the rocks at the time. In one place a bird was found frozen fast by one leg as it sat upon the eggs, In August, 1S96, as recorded by one of the old Dutch expeditions which touched that coast. On the northern half of Nova Zemla,

Barents found some fulmars nesting upon a piece of ice covered with a little earth. In both of these cases the underpart of the egg during hatching could not be warmed above the freezing point.

Macgillivray (1852) gives a very good account of the breeding habits of this species at St. Kilda, quoting from the notes of his son, who visited the locality in 1840; he writes:

St. Kilda has long been noted as the only breeding place in Britain of tht? fulmar petrel, Procellaria placE ails (An Fulmar, or Fulimar). This bird exists there in almost incredible numbers, and to the natives it is by far the most Important of the productions of the island. It forms one of the principal means of support to the Inhabitants, who daily risk their lives in Its pursuit. The fulmar breeds on the face of the highest precipices, and only on such as are furnished xvith small grassy shelves, every spot on which above a fexv Inches in extent Is occupied with one or more of its nests. The nest Is formed of herbage, seldom bulky, generally a mere shallow excavation In tile turf, lined with dried grass and withered tufts of the sea pink, in which the bird deposits a single egg of a pure white color when clean, xvhich is seldom the case, and varying In size from 2 inches 7 lines to 3 inches 1 line in length, and 1 inch 11 lines to 2 Inches in breadth. On the 30th of June, having partially descended a nearly perpendicular precipice 600 feet in height, the whole face of which was covered with the nests of the fulmar, I enjoyed an opportunity of observ ing the habits of this bird, which has fallen to the lot of few of those who have described them, as if from personal observation. The nests had all been robbed about a month before by the natives, who esteem the eggs of this species above all others; those of the auk, guillemot, kittiwake, and puffin ranking next, and the gannet, scart, and cormorant last of all. Many of the nests contained each a young bird a day or two old at furthest, thickly covered with long white down. Such of the eggs as I examined in situ had a small aperture at the broad end, at which the bill of the chick was visible, sometimes protruding a little way. Several addled eggs also occurred. The young birds were very clamorous on being handled and vomited a quantity of clear oil, with which I sometimes observed the parent birds feeding them by disgorging It. The fulmar is stated in most works on ornithology to possess the power of ejecting oil with much force through its tubular nostrils, using this as a mode of defense, hut, although I surprised several upon the nest, I never observed them attempt this. On being seized they Instantly vomit a quantity of clear amber-colored oil, which Imparts to the whole bird, its nest and young, and even the very rock which It frequents, a peculiar and very disagreeable odor.

A slightly different account of this breeding place is given by Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway (1884), based on the observations of Captain Elmes (written Biwes by Godman), as follows:

Soon after landing he started with some of the best cragsmen for the cliffs at the north side of the island. On reaching the summit of Conachan, the highest point, he came suddenly on a precipice not less than 1,220 feet in height. The whole of this immense face of rock was so crowded with birds that the water was seen far below as if through a heavy snow storm, and the birds, which were flying in front of the cliff, almost obscured the view. All the ledges near the top were covered with short turf, full of holes, in which the fulmars were sitting on their eggs, with their heads and part of their bodies exposed outside. In some cases they were Quite concealed, but generally the soil was too thin for them to make more than a slight excavation. Thousands of fulmars were flying backward and forward with a quiet, owl-like flight, and, although the air was full of them, hardl~’ one ever caine over the top of the cliff.

Eggs: The fulmar lays but one egg, which is elliptical ovate or e]liptical oval in shape. The shell is rather rough or granulated and quite lustreless. The color is dull, dirty white, usually. immaculate, but often much nest-stained and sometimes partially or wholly covered with very fine dots or sprinklings of reddish brown. These dots look more like particles of soil or dirt lodged in the l)itted surface than actual color markings. The surface of the egg is often more or less covered with little nodules or small excrescences, but in many cases it is quite smooth.

The measurements of 77 eggs, in various collections, average 74 by 51 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 81.5 by 50.5, 72.5 by 54.1, 69 by 49.1, and 74.1 by 43.2 millimeters.

Young: The period of incubation, which is performed by both sexes, is said to be from 50 to 60 days. The young fulmar is carefully guarded by its parents and is fed on regurgitated food, consisting of an amber-colored, oily fluid. The young bird is at first covered with a thick coat of long, soft, white down, which is worn until the bird is nearly fully grown. The first plumage, which is fully acquired before the young bird leaves the nest, is similar to that of the adult, in the white phase at least.

Plumages: Morris (1903) describes the immature plumage, presumably of the dark phase, as follows:

The young In the second year have the tip of the bill yellowish, the remainder greylsh; iris, pale dusky; there Is a dark spot before it. Head, crown, neck, and nape, greyish brown, the edges of the feather paler; chin, throat, and breast, pale greyish brown, the edges of the feathers lighter coloured; back, darker greyish brown, the edges of the feathers paler. Primaries, secondaries, and tertiaries, greylsh brown. Tall, greyish brown, the edges of the feathers paler. Legs and toes, pale brownish or greyish yellow; webs, pale brown.

Mr. W. Eagle Clarke gives some interesting notes (1912) on the juvenile plumage of Fulmamts g. glaciali8 from specimens obtained at St. Kilda. He states that the upper parts of the juvenile are of a decidedly paler gray than in the adult and more uniform in tint, while the head, neck and underparts of the juvenile are pure white and silky in appearance, whereas in the adult these parts have a yellowish hue. Mr. Clarke also mentions that in the adults some feathers of the mantle and scapulars are edged with ashy brown, as also are some of the wing coverts on their outer webs. A full description of the coloration of the bill and a few remarks on the pale and dark forms are added.

Food: Much has been written about the feeding habits of the fulmar, which are interesting though not attractive. The following quotations will show that it is a greedy and voracious feeder on a varied diet. The best account seems to have been given by Macgillivray (1852) as follows:

From the various statements made by observers, it appears that the fulmar feeds on fishes, cephalopodous mollusca, cirripedla, most other kinds of animal substance, especially such as are oily or fatty. The Rev. Mr. Scoresby, In his “Arctic Regions,” states that it is the constant companion of the whalefisher, joining his ship immediately on passing the Shetland Islands, and accompanying him to the highest accessible latitudes, keeping an eager watch for anything thrown overboard. 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 fleshing 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 stril~ing one of them. When anything 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 numher 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 their 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 endeavor to get on the ne,arest 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 he killed, and allowed to float about among them, they appear unconscious of danger to themselves. When carrion Is scarce the fulmars follow the living whale, and sometimes by their peculiar motions, when hovering at the surface of the water, point out to the fisher the position of the animal of which he is In pursuit. They can not make much Impression on the, dead whale until some more powerful animal tears away the skin; the epidermis and rete mucosum they entirely remove, hut true skin is too tough for them to make way through it.

Captain Collins (1899), writing of its habits on the Newfoundland Banks, says:

The fulmar subsists chiefly on small fishes, and, doubtless, participates with the hagdon In the pursuit of the squid; but I have no recollection of noticing in its stomach, as I have in that of the hag, the presence of pieces of squid or the beaks of that animal. I have, however, frequently observed that the contents of the stomachs of many of this species consisted almost entirely of small fish. Like PU.OInus, It is very fond of oily food, which It swallows with astonishing greediness. It devours large quantities of codfish liver in a ravenous manner that would astound one unacquainted with its habits, and it certainly would tax their credulity to believe statements that might be made bearing on this subject.

Behavior: The flight of the fulmar is a much more graceful performance than one would expect from such a short, heavily built bird and it is a pleasure to watch this miniature albatross, which to my mind it closely resembles, as it circles about in the wake of the ship, quartering the ground in search of what morsels it may pick up, with frequent periods of rapid wing beats alternating with longer periods of sailing on stiff pinions. Macgillirray (1852) says:

The fulmar flies with great buoyancy and considerable rapidity, and when at sea is generally seen skimming along the surface of the wave at a silglit elevation, though I never observed one to alight or pick up anything from the water. At its breeding places, the fulmar is always In motion, comparatively few being to be seen upon the rocks, the great mass being engaged flying In circles along the face of the precipice, and always in the same direction, none crossing, probably on account of the confusion this would cause among such an immense multitude.

Mr. John Treadwell Nichols writes to me, regarding the appearance of this species in flight as follows:

On the wing the fuln,ar is a stocky appearing bird, its dark-primaried, gulllike plumage, relieved by an obscure pale spot back of the tip of the wing, suggesting the better marked, diagnostic, pale area in the wing of Priocella. They flap their wings a great deal, Interspersing frequent short sails, and their flight has the stiff character usually characteristic of the Tabineres, as opposed to the buoyant flight of the Longinenne8.

The fulmar is usually a silent bird, but, when feeding, Morris (1903) says:

The noise that a large flock make is described as almost deafening, something between the cackle of a hen and the quack of a duck.

Captain Collins (1899) refers to its note as a sort of chuckling sound somewhat resembling a low grunt.”

The St. Kildians consider the fulmars of great importance in the economy of their lives, for both old and young birds, as well as the eggs, are largely used for food. They regularly risk their livcs in going over the cliffs on long ropes and are quite expert in catching the old birds and gathering the eggs and young. Macgillivray (1852) gives a good account of their methods and says:

Eulmar nil is among the most valuable productions of St. Kilda. and Is procured of two kinds by different processes. The best is obtained from the old bird by surprising it at night upon the rock, and tightly closing the bill until the fowler has secured the bird between his knees, with its head downwards. By opening the bill the fulmar is allowed to disgorge about a tablespoonful, or rather more, of oil into the dried gullet and stomach of a solan goose, used as a reservoir for that purpose. These, when filled, are secured with a string, and hung on cords across the Interior of the huts until required for use. The oil thus procured and preserved, besides supplying their lamps, is used by the inhabitants as a medicine, being sometimes of considerable efficacy in chronic rheumatism, and acting as a cathartic; while, from its nauseous taste and smell, it would doubtless prove on effectual emetic also to any but a St. Kildian. In the beginning of August the natives descend the rocks for the young fuimars, which are then nearly fledged; and by boiling with water, in proper vessels, are made to furnish a large quantity of fat, which is skimmed off, and preserved in casks in the solid form.

Winter: The principal winter resorts of the fulmar on the American side of the Atlantic Ocean are in the vicinity of the Grand Bank, off Newfoundland, and Georges Bank, off Massachusetts, where it is usually common and often abundant. It is known to the cod fishermen on the banks as the “noddy,” “marlAeheader,” “oil bird,” or “stinker.” Captain Collins (1899) says:

The fuimars are probably more abundant on the Grand Bank than on any other of the fishing grounds commonly resorted to by American vessels, with the exception, perhaps, of th% halibut grounds in Davis Straits, or the Flemish Cnp to the eastward of Grand Bank, which are not visited by many fishing schooners.

The marbleheader is quite as greedy as the bagdon, and quite as bold when in pursuit of food ; but, unlike the latter, which is al~vays quarrelsome and noisy, the fulmar confines itself to a sort of chuckling sound, somewhat resembling a low grunt. It will swallow a piece of cod liver with even as great voracity as the hag, but it rarely, If ever, seems to exercise the cunning or caution of the latter in trying to avoi(l the hook, and, as a consequence, it is more easily captured. It is caught in the same maaner as the hag, but owing to its comparatively small numbers on the fishing grounds, the fishermea do not depend upoa it so much as a source of bait supply as upon Pufflaus major, since one would be likely to catch twenty, or perhaps many more, of the latter to one noddy.

Breeding range: North Atlantic and Arctic regions. East to Spitzbergen and Franz Josef Land. South to the British Isles, where its range is extending to the mainland of Scotland (Sutherland and Caitliness) and Ireland (Mayo and Ulster) ; Iceland; southern Greenland (690 north); and eastern Baffin Land (Cumberland Sound). West to Melville Island. North to Northern Greenland (about 76~ North on the west coast and about 810 north on the east coast). Ranges north in summcr to 85g.

Winter range: North Atlantic Ocean. South on the American side to the fishing banks off Massachusettsregularly and farther south occasionally. South in the Atlantic Ocean at least to 430 north. North to the limit of open water.

Spring migration: Early dates of arrival: Davis Straits, April 19; northeastern Greenland, 790 north, middle of April; Jones Sound, May 1; Wellington Channel, May 23; Spitzbcrgen, April 7; Franz Josef Land, April 24. Leaves Georges Bank, Massachusetts, about middle of March.

Fall migration: Early dates of arrival: Labrador, Cape Harrison, July 19, and Ragged Islands, August 9. Late dates of departure: Wellington Channel, September 2; Hudson Straits, September 15; Cumberland Sound, middle of October; Franz Josef Land, October 28; Spitzbergen, October 6. Arrives on Georges Bank, MassachusMts, in October or earlier.

Casual records: Massachusetts (Chatham, September 23, 1912). Connecticut (Stony Creek, October 10, 1907). New Jersey (Ridgewood, December, 1891). Accidental in Madeira.

Egg dates: St. Kilda Island: Twenty-eight records, May 6 to June 15; fourteen records, May 22 to June 5. Iceland: Nine records, May 14 to July 1; five records, May 30 to June 15. Greenland: One record, July 2.


The relationships of the three fulmars found in the northern parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are none too well understood, and I very much doubt if their relationships are correctly designated in our present classification of the three forms.

The Pacific fulmar, with its light and its dark phases, is now regarded as a subspecies of the Atlantic fulmar, with its two similar phases, and the Rodgers fulmar, with no dark phase, is recognized as a distinct species. ]~ or reasons which I have briefly stated, under that species, I doubt if the Rodgers fulmar will eventually prove to be even subspecifically distinct from the Pacific fulmar, as the characters on which the former species is based can be accounted for by age, seasonal or individual variations. This fact is beautifully illustrated in the magnificent series of fulmars whi~h Mr. Loomis has .accumulated in the collection of the California Academy of Sciences.

The Pacific fulmar may be correctly regarded as a subspecies of the Atlantic bird, although one of the principal characters which separates the two birds, the color of the bill, is very variable. Although I have never seen the theory advanced, there are several good reasons for regarding the dusky birds, of both oceans, as a distinct species, rather than regarding them as dark phases. The colorphase theory has always been a convenient method for disposing of a problem which we could not otherwise solve, but I believe that it should be used only when definitely proven. In this case we have some good evidence to the contrary. Stejneger (1885) suggests that:

There seems to be a decided difference in the geographical range of the two phases in both oceans. It appears that the dark phase in both instances Is a particularly western bird, while the light-colored ones seem to have a more eastern distribution.

If the dark form had occurred breeding In Iceland, where Faber found the white one exceedingly numerous, he could scarcely have escaped mentioning It. Nor does It seem to have been found in Saint Kilda by John Macgiliivray, and the form at present breeding on the Faer Islands seems also to be the unmixed light phase. In the Pacific a similar distribution obtains, the dark form being coniparatively scarce on the American side, while It Is by far the predominating form on the Asiatic shore, at least as far south as Kamtschatka.

The dark phase has not been recorded from any of the breeding places in Bering Sea, wbich is the basis for the belief that the socalled Rodgers fulmar has no dark phase. If the dusky birds represent only a dark phase, it seems strange that they should have such a different breeding range, which is not usually the case in wellknown color phases in other species. Furthermore, where the breeding ranges of the two phases overlap, they do not intermingle and have never been seen mated together. Stej neger (1885) says:

The dark phase was found by me on the Commander Islands In countless numbers. In the colonies breeding on Bering Island not a single light bird was to be seen, and the same was the case at the rookeries on the northern part of Copper Island: for example, that close to the village. At Glinka, near the southern extremity of the latter Island, were found a few small white colonies, but the percentage of the light-colored birds was quite trifling, as I estimated it to be between 1 and 5 per cent.

In the light of what evidence we have, it seems to me more logical to recognize a light and a dark species, each perhaps with Atlantic and Pacific subspecies, and to eliminate rod gersi as not separable from the light bird of the Pacific Ocean.

Nesting: Very little has been published about the breeding habits of the Pacific fulmar. It is supposed to breed on some of the western Aleutian Islands, but although we cruised as far west as Attu Island we did not even see any of the birds. We were unable to visit Semichi Island where it is said to breed. Stejneger (1885) found it breeding abundantly in the Commander Islands and has given us the following account of it:

The fulmar Is the first one of the nonresident water birds to arrive at the rookeries In early spring, usually in March, the order of arrival being Futmaru8, Usia an-a, Lunda cirrhata, Fretercela cornicula Ia. One specimen of the white form was obtained on Bering Island, February 7, which would Indicate that the advance guard had already reached the islands by that time, or else, what I am rather inclined to believe, that many of the birds pass the winter on the open ocean not so very far from the shores they Inhabit In summer.

The “glupisch” is one of the commonest slimmer visitors to the Islands, and breeds in enormous numbers In suitable places, that is to say, in high and steep rocky bluffs and promoatories boldly rising out of the sea 300 to 800 feet high, and I have spent hours under their rookeries listening to their whinnying voice and watching their high and elegant flight in sailing out and in and around the cracked rocks like bees at an immense beehive. I have mentioned above that nearly all the birds belonged to the dark phase, and that only a very small percentage of white birds breed, apart from the dark ones, on Copper Island.

Eggs: I can not find anything distinctive in the eggs of this subspecies, which are in every particular indistinguishable from those of the Atlantic fulmar.

The measurements of 19 eggs, in various collections, average 72.7 by 50 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 77.5 by 49.5, 72 by 52, 68 by 51.5, and 77.5 by 48 millimeters.

Plumages: I have never seen the downy young of this fulmar and can not find any description of it in print, but probably it is similar to that of the Atlantic subspecies. The sequence of plumages to maturity and the seasonal molts are also probably the same.

Food: Mr. A. W. Anthony (1895) gives a very good account of the feeding habits of tkie fulmars on the California coast, which I quote as follows:

Although mention has been made of their following fishing sloops, fish form a very small part of their diet while on this coast. In fact, it is the exception, I have never found small fish In the stomachs of those I have taken, nor have I seen them catch fish for themselves, though I have no doubt regarding their ability to do so should they fall in with a school of small herring or anchovies, and from their associating with the flocks of shearwaters I infer that they derive a part of their food from such schools of small fry when they are common. There is, however, a large jelly fish (Medusa?) that is usually abundant along this coast during the time of the fulmars’ sojourn, and these are never disregarded by the ever hungry birds. I have often seen a fuimar sitting on the water by the side of a jelly fish, part of whhAh It had eaten, so filled that it would scarcely move out of the way of the boat. Specimens shot willie these Medusac are common I have always found with the stomach filled with these alone, and half a pint of the slimy mass will often run from their months when l!fted from the water by their feet.

I think the fulmars enjoy a monopoly of this diet, for I have never seen other species eating it, nor will gulls, nor any of the sea birds that I have observed, pay any attention to a fulmar that is eating a jelly fish though they all claim their share if the food Is of a kind that they care for.

The abundance of the fulmars off this coast would seem to have some relation to the abundance of the Medusac, since the winter of 1893: 94 was noted for the almost If not entire absence of fuhaars as well as jelly fish until same time in late February or March, when both jelly fish and fulmars appeared in small numbers.

I have occasionally seen fulmars busily engaged in picking small crustacea (?) from the kelp, but as a rule they prefer to obtain their food in open water where they are much oftener seen than along the immense beds of kelp (Macroc~jstts pw’tfcra) and “bull kelp~’ (7lcrecvstis hut kena) that fringe the shores for miles along the southern coast. These kelp beds, however, acting as barriers to drifting Medusac, often entangle a quantity of them, and for the time being fulmars are common near shore. They will also follow the shearwaters which at times drive schools of small fish into the help beds. In diving for fish in competition with shearwaters they are badly handicapped; their plumage being much less compact makes it not only more difficult for them to get under the water but they can not dive so far nor swim so fast below the surface as can the shearwaters.

Mr. C. B. Linton (1908a) publishes the following short note on the subject:

During February, 1908, I observed several Pacific fulmars (Fuhnarua glac~cUis glupisclta), both light and dark phases, about the pleasure wharf at Long Beach, California. These birds were exceedingly tame, swimming about within a few inches of the numerous fish lines and often making a dash for the baited hooks as the fishermen cast them. Upon tossing a handful of fish scraps overboard I was surprised to see the fulmars dive for the sinking pieces, sometimes going two or three feet under water and bouncing almost clear of the suface upon returning. They were also somewhat quarrelsome, fighting fiercely over a fish, uttering a harsh rasping note the while.

Behavior: What has been said about the flight and behavior of other fulmars would apply equally well to this subspecies. Cassin (185~),in quoting from Doctor Pickering’s journal, says:

In alighting in the water, these birds take the same care In folding and adjusting their wings, without wetting them, as the albatrosses. One was observed to seize a ThaUr8sidrOma violently, and to hold it under water as If for the purpose of drowning It, but whether the attempt succeeded or not was not noticed. On the other hand, the small petrels do not appear to be afraid of this species.

Mr. Anthony (1895) adds the following notes on the habits of this fulmar off the California coast in winter:

There are often large schools of small fish on the surface, which attract large numbers of sea birds, Including the fulmars, and It is along this bank that fulmars are to be found if anywhere near shore. They are hardly what one would call gregarious, although several are often seen in company flying along in a loose, straggling flock. More often they are seen in flocks of Pu~lnua gama, one or two in a flock of 50 shearwaters.

Unlike the shearwaters, ho~vever, they seldom pass a craft without taming aside to at least make a circuit about It before flying on. If the vessel Is a fishing sloop sounding on the banks the chances are in favor of the shearwaters being forgotten and allowed to disappear In the distance while the fulmar settles lightly down on the water within a few yards of the fisherman. The next fulmar that passes will, after having made the regulation circuit, Join the first until within a few minutes a flock of six or eight of these most graceful and handsome petrels have collected, dancing about on the waves as light and buoyant as corks. As the lines are hauled up after a successful sound, the long string of often twenty to thirty golden-red fish are seen through the limpid water while still several fathoms in depth, and great excitement prevails. Any !ulmars that hav~grown uneasy and have started out on the periodical circuit of the craft immediately alight a fe~v yards to the windward. Those that are on the water and have drifted away hasten to the spot with wings outspread and feet pattering along on the water.

It is more than likely that in hauling up the net one or more fish become detached from the hooks; such fish, If loosened after having been raised twenty fathoms, are sure to rise to the surface a few feet to the windward of the boat. The pressure of the water being suddenly removed, the internal pressure becomes so great that the fish is greatly distended and rises helpless to the surface.

With a honrse croak and xviugs outspread the nearest fulmar pounces upon the unfortunate cod, keeping all others at bay with threatening beak. A few hasty snaps at the eyes or nir bladder protruding from the mouth convinces him that codfish are tough, and the first floater, if a large one, is abandoned for the moment, for the second, should there be more than one, or for a snap at the bait on the hooks.

Their excitement by this time has attracted the attention of several Western and American herring gulls, which hover screaming over the sloop, too shy to attempt to touch the fish while it is so near. Another ocean wanderer meantime has arrived; a short-tailed albatross, sweeping along, has noticed the commotion among his lesser brethren, and with a groaning note settles doxvn by the floating fish, keeping all trespassers away by a loud clattering of mandibles; though not Infrequently a fulmar ~vill dispute possession for some time with an albatross before leaving a fish he has torn open, and I think a fulmar will usually rout a Western gull entirely.

In attacking a fish under the above conditions the eyes and air bladder are first eaten, after which the abdomen is torn open, if possible, and the enti~ contents of the skin torn out piecemeal. I have, however, seen birds seated on the water by the side of fish from which they had eaten the eyes, but were unable to tear open the tough skin.

The bait on fish hooks left hanging over the sides of the boat is often taken within a fe~v feet of the fisherman, and birds nre not infrequently hooked, much to the disgust of both the fisherman and the bird. Their confidence in mankind Is at all times very great. I have severnl times seen them killed by Portuguese fishermen who had but to drop a small piece of fish overboard and hit the bird with a club when it swam up to get it.

Breeding range: Coasts and islands of northeastern Asia. From the Kurile and Commander Islands northward along the Kamchatka coast to East Cape, Siberia. The breeding range of rod gersi might be added to this, as the two are probably the same species.

Winter range: Northern portions of Pacific Ocean. South on the American side to Lower California (San Geronimo Island), in the Pacific Ocean to about 300 North and on the Asiatic side to Japan (Yokohama). North to the Aletitian Islands and southern Bering Sea, as far as open water extends.

Spring migration: Leaves southern California in April: Point Pinos, April 15; San Diego, April 26.

Fall migration: Early dates of arrival: Alaska, Baranof Island, September 6; British Columbia, llwaco, October 30 to November 10: California, Monterey, October 13 (July and August records are for summer loiterers). Late dates of departure: Alaska, Point Barrow, September 19; Herald Island, September 26.

Egg dates: Kamtschatka: Four records, June 4 to 20. Semidi Islands, Alaska: Two records, June 30 and July 1. Copper Island: Two records, May 14.

(Current AOU – Northern Fulmar)



A southwest gale in Bering Sea drove us to shelter under the lofty, red granitic cliffs of hall Island, the summer home of this boreal fulmar. The sea was lashed to foam by the gale which cut off the tops of the waves and sent them scudding along before it in a foamy sprsy; off shore was a heavy bank of fog or dusky clouds, against which was clearly outlined a beautiful aurora borealis, a complete semicircle above the sea, a broad band of light showing all the colors of the spectrum; the sky above was clear blue; and over the frowning, rocky cliffs of the island rolled heavy clouds of fog, shrouding them in misty haze and chilling us with the cold dampness of the snowdrifts on the hills. The swift-winged murres and puffins, returning to their nests, were flying high and made but slow progress against the gale, but the fulmars gloried in its fury and sailed at ease against it under perfect control and with perfect mastery of its forces. The fiercest storms at sea have no terrors for these birds; the treacherous “woolies,” terrific wind squalls, which sweep down without warning over those forbidding cliffs, can not drive them from their homes. There they sit upon their eggs and rear their young on narrow shelves of rock, hundreds of feet perhaps, above the rough and stormy Arctic sea.

Nesting: On July 9, 1911, we examined another large colony of Rodgers fulmars at the north end of St. Matthew Island where they were breeding in company with large numbers of Pallas murres and a few California murres on the precipitous rocky cliffs which towered for 200 or 300 feet above the sea. The murres were mostly on the lower ledges but the fulmars were scattered all over the higher ledges in inaccessible places on the perpendicular or overhanging cliffs. In a sheltered cove we found a landing place and climbed up a steep slope in the valley of a little brook which had cut its way under the snow banks to the sea. The hard snow banks were preferable to the soft, muddy, and stony hillsides above, where our toilsome ascent was gladdened by the sight of the pure white Mackay snowflakes flitting about among the rocks and by the profusion of beautiful flowers in bloom on the grassy slopes. The sudden transition from snowdrifts to flowers is one of the charms oi an arctic summer. On the crest of the cliffs it was blowing so hard that it seemed dangerous to venture too near the edge, but I crawled down into a sheltered gully where I could watch the graceful fulmars sailing in and out below me, to and from their nesting ledges, or see them bedded in a large flock offshore. Besides the murres beiow, they had other neighbors; little groups of horned puffins, pigeon guillemots and paroquet auklets were sitting on the ledges all about me or flying to and from their nests in the crevices in the rocks. As the fulmars flew below me I could plainly see the mottled back, supposed to be the character of rodgersi; there were also many plain light birds and a great variety of color patterns, which raised the question in my mind whether the so-called characters of this species represent anything more than individual variations in Fulmarus glcwiali.s glupiscluz.

The fulmars were sitting on their nests, or rather on their single eggs, for they build no nests. The eggs were laid on the bare rock, wherever suitable ledges or little shelves were available, but they were widely scattered. Many incubating birds were in sight at various points, but none of the eggs were accessible or even approachable. I had to be content with distant views. Once I saw what I thought was a courtship performance; a bird, presumably a female, was sitting on a ledge when a male flew up and alighted beside her; with his beak wide open and his head thrown back until it pointed straight upwards, he slowly waved his head from side to side uttering a soft, guttural, croaking note; after this short ceremony the pair sat quietly together on the ledge for some time.

For nearly all of our knowledge regarding the nesting habits of the Rodgers fulmar we are indebted to Mr. Henry W. Elliott (1880) the following extract from his notes has been often quoted:

This is the only representative of the Procellariaa.e I have seen on or about the Pribylov Islands. It repairs to the cliffs, especially on the south and east shores of St. George; comes very early in the season, and selects some rocky shelf, secure from all enemies save man, where, making no nest whatever, but. squatting on the rock itself, It lays a single, large, white, oblong-oval egg, and immediately commences the duty and the labor of incubation. It is of all, the water-fowl the most devoted to its charge, for it will not be scared from the egg by any demonstration that may be made in the way of tbrowing rocks or yelling, and it will even die as It sits rather thaii take flight, as I have frequently witnessed. The fulmar lays about the 1st to the 5th of June. The egg is very palatable, fully equal to that of our domestic duck; indeed, It is somewhat like it. The natives prize them highly, and hence they undertake at St. George to gather their eggs by a method and a suspension supremely hazardous, as they lower themselves over cliffs five to seven hundred feet above the water. The sensation experienced by myself, when dangled over these precipices attached to a slight thong of raw-hide, with the surf boiling and churning three or four hundred feet below, and loose rocks rattling down from above, ally one of which was sufficient to destroy life should it have struck me. Is nut a sensation to be expressed adequately by language; alld, after having IllISsed throligh the ordeal, I caine to the surface perfectly satisfied with what I had called tile iniprovidence of the Aleuts. They have quite suflicient excuse in aly nlin(l to he colltent witli as few fulmar eggs as possible. The lupus, laying so early as the 1st of June, Is the only rival that the cormorant has with reference to early ilIClIhation.

Eggs: Like other fulmars this species lays but one egg, which is said to be more elongated tilan those of other species and somewhat rougher. I can not find any constant difference between the eggs of this so-called species and those of the Pacific fulmar, though the eggs of both seem to average smaller than those of the Atlantic bird.

The measurements of 10 eggs, supposcd to be rodgJrsi, average 72.8 by 49 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 77.2 by 50, 75.2 by 51, 68 by 47.~, and 70.2 by 45 millimetcrs.

Plumages: Mr. Elliott ( 1880) says:

Tile chick comes out a perfect puffball of white down, and gains its first plumage in about six weeks. It is dull, gray-black at first, but by the end of the season it becomes like the parents in coloration, only much darker on the back and scapulllries.

This statement is somewhat at variance with my experience, for specimens of young fulmars, collected by our expedition on St. Matthew Island on September 15, 1911, show the molt from the white natal down directly into a light-colored plumage resembling the adult. Dr. E. W. Nelson (1887) mentions seeing young birds in both light and dark stages of plumages in September and October, but I am inclined to think that these represented light and dark phases, in spite of the fact that this species is said to have no dark phase. There is much yet to be learned about the molts and plumages of the fulmars, and large series of birds have yet to be collected and studied before these can be understood and before the validity of this and other forms can be definitely established. I very much doubt if Fubna,~us rodgersi will finally prove to be, even subspecifically, distinct from Fulmarus gladalisx Food: The food of this and other fulmars consists of whatever fragments of animal food can be picked up on the surface of the sea; it shows a decided preference for oily substances.

Doctor Nelson (1887) says:

They gather lll)out a wilale carcass and drink the large globules of oil which cover the sea, sometimes for nIlles, about a decaying cetacean. In Plover Ray, Siberia, on one occason, we noticed the oil thus floating about in the luolnillg, and In the afternoon a fulinar was shot from which ran a considerable quantity of putrid oil wilCil the bird was taken up by the feet.

Wherever a walrus or other sea animal is killed the fulmars will congregate and gather up blood, grease, and floating fragments of soft flesh. They also follow ships to some extent to pick up bits of offal thrown overboard.

Behavior: My first view of a fulmar in flight was a pleasing surprise, for I never imagined that so short and heavy a bird, as it appears in a dry skin, could be so light and graceful on the wing. Its long, slender, pointed wings, give it the appearance of a small albatross, but its characteristic flight is shown in the frequent periods of rapid wing strokes, almost as rapid as those of a duck, with which it rises or turns into the wind, followed by a long scaling flight slightly downward on outstretched wings. Its short, thickset body and its peculiar flight are quite distinctive. Fulmars rest lightly on the water, swimming easily and buoyantly; they can ordinarily rise readily from the surface, but in calm weather they experience some difficulty. They are great wanderers, of restless habits, and are seldom seen near land except in the vicinity of their breeding grounds.

Fulmars are usually silent; the only sounds I ever heard from them were the soft, gutteral croaking love notes, on their breeding grounds. Mr. Elliott (1880) says:

I have never heard it utter a sound, save a low, droning croak when disgorging food for its young.

Winter: During the southward movement in the early fall the fulmars often gather in large numbers, associating with the shearwaters and other ocean birds, in localities where whales are abundant, particularly in the passes among the Aleutian Islands, after which they scatter for the winter over the broad expanse of the north Pacific Ocean.

Breeding range: The breeding range of this supposed species includes the islands in northern Bering Sea (the Pribilof, St. Matthew, Hall, and St. Lawrence Islands) and in the Arctic Ocean (Wrangel and Herald Islands). In the author’s opinion this is part of the range of the Pacific fulmar, from which this species should not be separated. The winter ranges and migrations of the two seem to be identical. Breeding grounds protected in Bering Sea iind Pribilof reservations.

Egg dates: PribiLof Islands: Two records, May 28 and June 28. Saint Matthew Island: One record, July 9.


This fulmar was described by Audubon (1840) from a specimen taken by Doctor Townsend, “within a day’s sail from the mouth of the Columbia River. Its habits are very similar to those of Procellaria capensis, keeping constantly around the vessel, and frequently alighting in her wake for the purpose of feeding. They are easily taken with a hook baited with pork, and at times, particularly during a gale, they are so tame as almost to allow themselves to be taken with the hand. The stomachs of most of those that I captured were found to contain a species of sepia and grease.” Audubon referred to it as “common,” but no other living specimens have ever been recorded from our coasts and subsequent developments have shown that it is an antarctic species and that Doctor Townsend’s specimens were rare stragglers from southern oceans.

The silvery-gray fulmar or “cape dove,” as it has been called, is now well known as a species pf wide distribution in Antarctic seas, where it replaces to a certain extent our common fulinar of the north Atlantic Ocean. Godman (1907) gives a long list of localities where it has been seen or taken and then says:

It will be seen from the above list of localities that the species is found in the neighbourhood of the Antarctic pack ice from August to March, and I am of Dr. Wilson’s opinion that It is a migratory bird, as it has been observed in the southern seas during the summer months, December, January, and February, while Its farthest northern records occur during the southern winter, when it retires to the open sea. It will therefore be noticed that P. glacialoidea does not habitually frequent the ice, but keeps almost entirely to the open ocean.

Nesting: Our knowledge of its breeding habits is exceedingly fragmentary and quite unsatisfactory. Perhaps its principal breeding grounds have never been found. Dr. E. A. Wilson (1907) says:

Kerguelen Island is supposed to be a breeding place. Nothing appears to be known of its breeding habits; the Scottish expedition were unable to find It nesting, though they strongly suspected that it bred on the north side of Laurie Island; nor were we in the Discovcry any more successful. I can only suggest the Baileny Islands as a possible nesting place, but if the bird breeds upon Kerguelen Islands It is much more likely that the more northern subAntarctic islands will prove eventually to harbour them.

Gould (1841) writes:

I am informed that it arrives in Georgia in September for the purpose of breeding, and that it lays its eggs in holes in the precipices overhanging the sea. On the approach of winter it is said to retire from that island.

More recent explorations in Antarctic lands by Sir Douglas Mawson (1914) and by various members of his party have discovered what are probably the main breeding grounds of this species~ Their accounts are decidedly fragmentary, but they demonstrate beyond doubt that the “silver-grey petrel,” or “southern fulmar,” as they call it, breeds at extreme southern latitudes, on the very edge of the Antarctic ice and snow. At Penguin Point, on Adelie Land, they found these birds nesting in hundreds on December 31, 1912. Here the coast, even in summer, is almost concealed in perpetual ice and snow; only occasional outcroppings of rocky ledges protrude through the heavy banks of snow or glaciers on the land; and only here and there the summits of rocky islets appear above the sea ice. The larger islands off this coast, which are surrounded by water in summer, furnish suitable breeding grounds for large colonies of this and other species, such as Antarctic petrels, Wilson petrels, pintado petrels, McCormick skuas, and various penguins. One of the most populous colonies was on Haswell Island, where, during the first three days in December, “the silver-grey or southern fulmar petrels were present in large numbers, especially about the steep northeastern side of the island. Though they were mated, laying had scarcely commenced, as we found only two eggs. They made small grottoes in the snowdrifts, and many pairs were seen billing and cooing in such shelters.”

Stillwell Island, a large, high, rocky islsnd, a few miles off the coast of Adelie Land, was visited on December 30, 1913. During the previous summer, two of the eastern sledging parties had for the first time observed the breeding habits of these birds among isolated rocks outcropping on the edge of the coast. But here there was a stronghold of hundreds of petrels, sitting on their eggs in niches among the boulders or ensconced in bowers excavated beneath the snow, which lay deep over some parts of the island.

Food: Godman (1907) says:

It feeds on dead animal matter, when it can be procured, and Dr. Townsend found in the stomach of a bird that he examined some oil and the remains of a cuttle fish.

Behavior: Ilegarding its flight and behavior, Gould (1841) observes:

It is a tamc, sociable, nod silent bird, and often settles oa the water. When thus resting it might from a distance be mistaken, owing to the general color of Its plumage, for a gnU.

Godman (1907) says:

It is said to fly higher above the water and to rest more frequently than the smaller species.

And Mr. John Treadwell Nichols writes me as follows:

The cape dove, or slender-billed fulmar, is much rarer on the South Seas than the cape pigeon, with which it is practically identical in Ilight and habits, being equally fenriess, eager for scraps, and easily caught with hook and line. A light mark near the end of Its wing, conspicuous in flight, suggest the stronger, not dissimilarly placed white mark of the more boldly colored cape pigeon.

Breeding range: Reported as breeding on Louis Philippe Land (Cape Roquemaurel) and known to breed abundantly on Adelie

Land and on islands near it (Stiliwell and Haswell Islands). Breeding records for islands off the coasts of Chile and Patagonia are probably erroneous.

Range: Southern oceans and Antarctic seas, mainly between 300 and 700 south, and circumpolar. I~nnging north in the Atlantic Ocean to Saint Helena Island and in the Pacific Ocean as far north as Peru (Mazorca Island). South in Weddell Sea to 710 22′ South; also to the edge of the pack ice on the Antarctic lands.

Casual records: Accidental off the west coast of Mexico (Mazat. Ian) and off the coast of Oregon (Audubon’s record).

Egg dates: Adelie Land: I)ecember 1 to 31.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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