Atlantic and Pacific Blue Fulmar

Ocean Wanderers and ID conundrums

I have already flagged up the potential for Pacific Fulmar ssp rodgersii to occur in the Western Palearctic in this book. The Blue Fulmar Pelagic made me wonder if the Barents Sea might be the place the first one is found. Recently Rónán McLaughlin sent me an image I had seen before (flagged up by Harry Hussey). It’s a Fulmar which Rónán saw 80 miles south of the Fastnet Light (beyond Cape Clear, Co. Cork) in February 2009 (the best time of year to look for uber rare seabirds). It looks amazing! I don’t know what’s going on really. The almost blackish ‘blue’ plumage tone puts me into mind of the darkest of the Pacific birds. It simply look too dark for an Atlantic Fulmar (isn’t it?). It also has a  more conspicuous brown wash to worn upperpart feathers- as per Pacific birds. However it’s not straightforward. Most Pacific birds have rather strikingly pale almost entirely yellow or orange/ yellow bill which is a tad slimmer than Atlantic birds. It contrasts very noticeably with the plumage of dark birds. The bill on this bird is dark toned/ dull greenish and not at all ideal for Pacific Fulmar claim. The tail is hard to read but does look to be a little darker than the worn rump feathers. It would be acceptable for a Pacific bird and seems to me to be too dark for an Atlantic bird. The ‘extra white’ in the primaries is also odd. With rather extensive white plumage in c 7 + primaries, with blackish tips  and white similarly in the greater primary coverts- this doesn’t seem right for very dark Pacific birds. However this is the kind of contrasty wing patterning can be seen on very pale Pacific birds– more so than Atlantic Fulmar. It has has a mottling of white over the mantle/back, scapulars and some secondary coverts. Strange! Almost a combination of the features of a very dark and a very light Pacific birds!

Unusual Fulmar 80 miles south of Fastnet, Feb 2009. Rónán McLaughlin. Honestly? I reckon it has Pacific genes in it. Having a peculiar mix of  characters it can’t be claimed as Pacific or Atlantic with any certainty at present. What do you think?

And to compare, some excellent shots from Mark Darlaston of Atlantic Blue Fulmar off SW Britain . Mark wrote:

“I was very interested to see those pics of dark and double dark Fulmars on your recent Northern trips on We get these dark birds down here occasionally off Devon in a range of dark tones, usually in winter Jan-Mar. Most I’ve seen is five on a seawatch, typically when we might get a passage of 500-1000 light phase birds. So thought you may be interested in a few photos from Devon. By far the darkest (a double dark++), I’ve seen down here went past Berry head on 21/01/09.  I did a double take at first when it appeared as to what it was, even the bill appeared dark! Not good pics, but I was sat on a headland in a gale. 

And more recently a few pictures of a more typical dark bird off Devon on 08/03/11 from a boat.”

Above a very dark (presumed Atlantic Blue) off Berry head on 21 Jan 2009.

and below ‘intermediate’ Blues from a boat off  Devon on 8 March 2011. Mark Darlaston

One thought on “Atlantic and Pacific Blue Fulmar

  1. Alex Lees

    Autumn migration and wintering of northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) from the Canadian high Arctic
    Mark L. Mallory, Jason A. Akearok, Darryl B. Edwards, Kieran O’Donovan and Cynthia D. Gilbert

    Five northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) were tracked by satellite transmitters from their breeding colony in the Canadian high Arctic (Cape Vera, Devon Island, NT) to their wintering grounds in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. In both 2004 and 2005, fulmars left northern Baffin Bay in mid- to late September, and migrated south to Davis Strait in less than 1 week, after which movements were erratic. In October and November, the birds were widely distributed, but by December through March, they tended to remain in the Labrador Sea between 50 and 55°N. Average flight speed was 35 km/h with a maximum of 64 km/h, and over their entire transmission periods, the five traveled on average 84 km/day. Our work suggests that the North Atlantic northern fulmar population may be panmictic in winter, with the Labrador Sea as a key wintering site for fulmars from high Arctic Canada.


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