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The Breeding Distribution, History and Population of The Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) in the British Isles

James Fisher and George Waterston
Journal of Animal Ecology
Vol. 10, No. 2 (Nov., 1941), pp. 204-272
DOI: 10.2307/1312
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1312
Page Count: 77
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The Breeding Distribution, History and Population of The Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) in the British Isles
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Abstract

1. From 1934 to 1939 the British Trust for Ornithology undertook investigations into the breeding distribution of the fulmar, Fulmarus g. glacialis (L.) in the British Isles. 172 individuals took part. This paper gives the results of these investigations, and incorporates previous published accounts. 2. Observations on the fulmar's distribution were most intensive in the periods 1880-9, 1910-14, and 1930-9. 3. Observations in space were most intensive in England, Wales, the west Lowlands, and the east of Ireland, and least intensive in the north Highlands, Orkney, Shetland and the south-west of Ireland. 4. Observers' notes of the population of each colony were recorded as Breeding not proved (Order 0), Breeding Order 1 (where under 10 eggs or young were produced), Order 2 (under 100), Order 3 (under 1000), Order 4 (under 10,000) and Order 5 (under 100,000). The mean population of all colonies in Order n was taken to be 4 X 10n-1. 5. Breeding only in St Kilda before 1878, the fulmar has spread in five main directions: (a) Shetland (1878), Sula Sgeir and North Rona (1887), Orkney (1900), west Sutherland (1902), Caithness (1905), Aberdeenshire (1916), Kincardine and Banff (1920), Angus and Berwickshire (1921), south-east Yorkshire (1922), Morayshire (1923), East Ross (1924), north-east Yorkshire and Durham (1927), north Northumberland (1928), East Lothian (1930), Fife (1931), east Sutherland (1939)--present but not proved to breed east Norfolk (1940). (b) Outer Hebrides (1902), West Ross (1937). (c) Mayo (Ireland) (1911), Donegal (1912), Kerry (1913), Clare (1924), Galway (1932), Cork (1938), now present but not proved to breed in Waterford, Pembrokeshire, Lundy (north Devon), Cornwall, the Scillies and Ushant (north-west France). (d) Antrim (1921), east Donegal (1925), Wigtownshire (1932), Isle of Man and Dublin (1936), Londonderry (1939), now present but not proved to breed in Cumberland, Carnarvon and Holyhead. (e) Islay (1924), middle Inner Hebrides (1929), Skye (1930), Ailsa Craig (Clyde) (1939), now present but not proved to breed on Mull of Kintyre. 6. The breeding population of St Kilda, which is held to have remained stationary throughout, is about 21,000 breeding pairs. Since 1877 the population outside St Kilda has increased from 0 to about 40,500 breeding pairs, nesting in 208 colonies in 1939. In 1939 there were also 61 other colonies at which breeding had not yet been proved. 7. The 1939 population was distributed as follows: [Note: table omitted. See the image of page 260 for this table]. 8. From 1855 until 1921 the human population of St Kilda remained steadily in the neighbourhood of 70. There is evidence that at no time in this period did it change the quality or quantity of its fulmar-killing activities. The advent of stored food to St Kilda, which coincided with the start of the fulmar's spread, had no effect on the fowling habits. A thousand fulmars were taken every year (on an average) for every 8 inhabitants. Since 1921 the drop and final extinction of the human population on St Kilda may have had an effect on the fulmar population. 9. Increases in the fulmar population of Iceland have been recorded since about 1820, and the bird arrived as a breeding species in the Faeroes between 1816 and 1839, where in recent years (before the psittacosis outbreak traced to fulmars) over 100,000 young ones were taken annually. In Norway it first bred in 1924. It has now arrived in France in the breeding season. 10. The spread of the fulmar in Britain cannot be attributed in the long run to its relation with man on St Kilda, and is due to a biological change which is not understood. 11. Even if fulmars were immortal and perpetually fertile, probably more than, and certainly at least, one in six of Britain's fulmars must have bred in every year, at the period of maximum increase (c. 1927). If, as has been suggested, it is normal for one in three to breed, the normal life span must have been over 12 years. 12. The fulmar is a Palearctic breeding species with outposts only in such parts of the Nearctic as have considerable Palearctic affinities. 13. The southward limit of its present breeding distribution in both Atlantic and Pacific is bounded by the 60 degrees F. July isotherm. 14. It has a clear preference for islands (large and small) and oceanic headlands as breeding places, but will also nest some distance inland. 15. At first the fulmar bred in Britain on the highest cliffs, over 200 ft. from sea-level, and often over 400 ft. As time went on and population increased there was a noticeable trend towards breeding on cliffs under 200 ft. However, breeding on cliffs under 50 ft., though it does occur, remains exceptional. 16. At eight stations in Britain fulmars now breed from 100 yd. to about a mile from the sea. 17. The fulmar's nest site normally differs from that of any other cliff-breeding bird which shares its distribution. However, on a breeding station its sites may overlap with those of man, the rabbit, cormorant, shag, gannet, herring gull, kittiwake, arctic tern, razorbill and possibly puffin. Its competition with these animals is often successful. 18. Fewer eggs or young are produced per breeding pair in small colonies than in the larger ones. 19. At large colonies birds arrive a month earlier than at small colonies, and two months or more earlier than at non-breeding colonies. Birds at non-breeding colonies normally depart at a time when birds at breeding colonies only depart if their cycle has been interfered with by the destruction of eggs or young just hatched. 20. Egg laying is generally earlier in the larger colonies than in the small ones, and takes place over a shorter period. 21. In a colony the social stimulus of numbers is required to enable the fulmars to go through their full breeding cycle. Members of small, new colonies are probably young birds. 22. There are no predators on the Atlantic fulmar save man. 23. The fulmar feeds on plankton and any oily matter it can get. It is not known whether there is any correlation between the changes in its distribution and in its food supply. 24. It will continue to increase and spread in Britain.

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