'True' Fulmars

Genus Fulmarus

The 'true' Fulmars are mid-size and stocky seabirds, superficially resembling grey-backed gulls.
Two species:

  • Southern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialoides
  • Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis; three subspecies: 
    • Atlantic Fulmar (Arctic type) F. g. glacialis
    • Atlantic Fulmar (Boreal type) F. g. auduboni
    • Pacific Fulmar F. g. rodgersii

Evolution and taxonomy

There is no doubt about the monophyly of the 'true' Fulmars. Voous (1949) argued that Fulmars originate in the Southern Hemisphere and colonised the Northern Pacific during Pleistocene glaciations. Penhallurick & Wink (2004) suggest that the divergence started already about 5.8 My, which is much earlier. The find of fossil remains of Fulmarus spp. dated at 10-15 My ago in North Pacific deposits is confusing, and makes the picture more complex.
After colonisation of the the northern Pacific the Fulmar is supposed to have found it's way to the Atlantic through the northern passage during an interglacial. After the closing of this passage the Fulmars in the Atlantic became islolated and followed their own evlutionary track. Atlantic Fulmars show considerable variation in (bill) size: small in the Arctic (glacialis) and larger in the Boreal zone (auduboni)(Salomonsen 1965). Van Franeker & Wattel (1982) studied the geographical variation and suggest a recolonisation of the Pacific by Atlantic birds based on an analysis of the distribution of light and dark types in both oceans. Presently one subspecies is reconized for the Pacific: rodgersii and two in the Atlantic: glacialis (Arctic) and aduboni (Boreal)
Former subspecies such as F. g. minor (Baffin Island) and the Pacific F. g. glupischa are not longer recognized



Antarctic Fulmars have a circumpolar distribution and breed in huge numbers on many islands south of the Antarctic Convergence and the coast of the Antarctic Continent (Creuwels et al. 2007, in press). Their winter distribution reaches into subtropical waters along the Humboldt Current. The Pacific Fulmar and the Atlantic Fulmar breed in large colonies on many northern and boreal (Atlantic) islands in both oceans. Winters down to resepctively Baja California and the Iberian Peninsula.
More info on Fulmarus glacialis.
The Atlantic Fulmar is a marine litter monitoring species in the OSPAR EcoQO project. [Reports]


Both species feed mainly by surface seizing of fish and crustacea. Scavenging offal from trawlers has also become an important foraging strategy. Fulmars are capable of diving (up to 4m) but are not very much adapted to it. The flight of both species is characterised by dynamic soaring on stiff outstreched wings like a small albatross. All Fulmarus species are cliff breeders. They don't make burrows and are poor walkers.


All species and subspecies of Fulmars are rather similar in shape and size. The shape and size of the bills form the main difference.
The Southern Fulmar F. glacialoides has a longer bill than its northern counterpart with a different color pattern. Most of the bill is flesh pink, with some bluish grey around the nostrils and with a dark grey tip to the ungues and sometimes dark cutting edges of the upper mandible. The pinkish and blueish color is caused by the tissue underneath the ramphotecal coating.
The Atlantic subspecies of F. glacialis, auduboni has a rather heavy and compact skull and bill, although rather slender and small billed birds also occur. High Arctic populations glacialis have smaller bills, especially those from Baffin Island. This was formerly considered a separate subspecies F. g. minor.  Its slightly smaller Pacific congener F. g. rodgersii has a more slender bill and a less robust skull. The bill color of all Northern Fulmar subspecies is yellowish, getting darker to the tip and with a varying amount of black mottling on and near the nostrils.

Southern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialoides. Ardery Island
Culmen: 46.0 mm, total: 105.4 mm; unsexed adult. Courtesey of J.A. van Franeker & J. Creuwels

Atlantic Fulmar
Fulmarus glacialis auduboni.The Netherlands
Culmen: 41.0 mm; total: 101.5 mm, adult, male.

Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis glacialis Minor type. Texel, The Netherlands.
Culmen: 33.3 mm; total: 86.3 mm, Probably from high Arctic origin.

Pacific Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis rodgersii. Florence, Oregon, USA
Culmen: 36.9 mm; total: 88.8 mm, unsexed adult. 

Bills of Atlantic (left) and Pacific (right) Fulmars compared.

  • Skull
  • Flight apparatus
  • Pelvis and legs
  • Vertebrae and ribs


Upper: Southern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialoides © J.A. van Franeker
Lower: Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis © J.A. van Franeker