Tuesday 28th comments: The counts are finished, the number crunching is complete and now we can reveal this year’s breeding figures for our seabirds. Today I shall start with Fulmars and over the next couple of weeks we will bring you the others.
Fulmar are often overlooked on the island, tucked away quietly on a small ledge at the top of cliff or side of a grassy bank, but are our longest living breeding bird on the island living: the oldest Fulmar in Britain is over fourty years old. This year we have the same number of pairs as last year, 309 dotted around the island, which is around average for recent times. Over the last 20 years the numbers of pairs have ranged from 236 pairs to the highest number in 2010 with 381 pairs.
Fulmars lay just one egg, incubating it for around 52 days before a chick hatches. Once big enough to defend itself both adults go on feeding trips leaving the chick alone. Its incredible defence strategy is to vomit a foul smelling oily substance on any intruders getting too close. This is quite effective and any marauding gulls can often be seen sat defeated with an oily head. It also enables them to spend long periods without food as it acts as a fat store, at around 45-50 days old the chick is able to fly and leave the island, staying on the wing for several hours soaring over the sea.
Fulmars are part of the ‘tubenose’ family, with a very small tube on the top of the bill. This feature enables them to excrete excess salt which builds up in their bodies and also contributes to their acute sense of smell, which they use to pick out food in vast oceans. They are amazingly graceful birds, gliding low over the water and using updrafts from the sea to master the art of flight. Next time you’re out on the May, why not take a break from the Puffins and appreciate this subtly brilliant seabird.