Wednesday, 1 April 2020

F is for Fulmar

Please remember! We ask that people do not visit the Reserve particularly if you have to travel. All car parks on Holy Island are closed to visitors until government restrictions are lifted. Many residents on Holy island fall into the vulnerable category. Please adhere to these guidelines for the health and safety of yourself and others during this time.

Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve is not known for its rugged coastline but the Reserve does have one small cliff. It is on this cliff that Fulmars return every year to nest along the ledges. Laying a single white egg in a shallow depression; incubation lasts over 50 days and then a further 50 days until the young fledge. The name Fulmar comes from the old Norse meaning ‘Foul Gull’ owing to their nasty habit of vomiting a foul smelling oily substance on anything that gets too close to the nest site. It’s not just adults who can do this; chicks are able to join in from a couple of weeks old! They are also a remarkably long lived bird perhaps living beyond 50!
Fulmar on nest with chick
Fulmars are often mistaken as Gulls but they are in fact part of the Procellariformes; a family that is made up of Albatrosses, Shearwaters and Petrels. As with the other birds in this family, Fulmars are perfectly adapted to a life at sea, often spending months gliding over the ocean waves on their stiff wings. How can a bird spend that long at sea without drinking any water I hear you ask……Well that is where clever evolution comes into play. A Fulmar, along with other Petrels, has a tube on top of their beak. These species are commonly known as the Tubenoses. This tube allows the bird to drink seawater, using glands to draw salt from the blood into a saline solution which is then excreted from the tube. However, this is likely not its primary function. The tube is thought to play a role in enabling Fulmars to smell out plankton blooms from huge distances, drawing them towards rich sources of food in a vast Ocean.
Fulmar with 'tubenose' on top of beak
Unfortunately resent research has shown that this highly tuned scent organ serves them poorly in our modern day world filled with plastic pollution. In a cruel twist of fate chemical compounds given off by breaking down plastic gives off the exact same scent (especially when covered in marine algae) of zooplankton that these birds love to eat. It is due to this that Fulmars appear to be much more affected by plastic pollution than other birds. In recent years the Beached Bird Survey on the Northumberland coast has shown up to 95% of corpses collected contain plastic within them and likely contributed to their death.

This is another one of many reasons to ensure that we cut down on single use plastics and ensure that we recycle as much as possible so our waste doesn’t end up in the sea. When visiting Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve please ensure you help our Fulmars by taking all your rubbish with you.

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