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A close relative of albatrosses (which don’t breed in the northern hemisphere), the fulmar is a gliding ace, able to speed over the sea and near cliffs with scarcely a wingbeat.

What to look for

A fulmar looks a bit like a stocky gull - grey on its upper wings and body and pale below - but has a very short, broad neck. It holds its wings stiffly in flight. Close-to, you can see two tubes with nostril-like openings at the top of a fulmar’s beak.

Interesting facts

As is the case with many other members of their wider seabird family (which includes petrels, shearwaters and albatrosses), fulmars can be very long lived, by bird standards. Females can keep breeding into their forties. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, fulmars spread gradually around Scottish and English coasts, beginning in Shetland and Orkney and working south. Before that, the principal breeding site was on St Kilda.

When and where to see

Look out for fulmars offshore at any time of year. Birds can be ashore for breeding between April and September, but may visit at other times.


St Kilda has the largest fulmar colonies in Britain and Ireland. Elsewhere, there are big numbers in Orkney and Shetland and very watchable fulmars on some buildings and cliffs near the castle in St Andrews. Otherwise, look for fulmars looking at you as they glide on the updraughts at many Scottish seabird colonies.

For more information see the RSPB's fulmar page.