Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Northern Fulmar - Fulmarus glacialis
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General Comments Northern Fulmars are among the most charismatic of our seabirds, as they seem to enjoy flying in very strong winds, arcing and banking on stiff wingbeats, very different from the gulls that they superficially resemble. Numbers of this species seem to vary more so than most other regular offshore birds; on some winter pelagic trips, over 100 can be seen, but on others they are completely lacking. And, considering its occasional abundance, it is practically never seen in flight from shore and has never been found inland (though its occurrence seldom overlaps the presence of hurricanes that might bring pelagic birds inland). Fulmars are birds of cold waters, found in the state only well offshore, mostly in winter and early spring, as North Carolina lies near the southern edge of its winter range. However, much is still to be learned about its migration routes and wintering grounds, as at times moderate numbers can be seen in mid- or late October, well before the onset of winter weather. Thus, despite range maps that might look like those of Atlantic Puffin, Dovekie, and Black-legged Kittiwake -- showing all as wintering in the Atlantic south to about North Carolina, the wintering range of the Fulmar remains unsettled. Why should largest numbers be in March, and a secondary peak in late October and November? Sadly, perhaps owing to global warming, records and numbers of fulmars, as well as Black-legged Kittiwakes, seen on pelagic trips have declined dramatically over the past 5-10 years.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
Coastal Plain Winter visitor and transient offshore; somewhat declining. Uncommon (to occasionally fairly common) over cold water offshore in the latter half of fall and winter; often fairly common, though erratic, in the first half of spring; these abundances refer to the northern half of the offshore zone, from Cape Hatteras area northward; much less numerous, and usually rare, in the southern half of the offshore zone, but there have been few trips to these waters in winter. Onshore records are one on the beach at Buxton (Dare), 4 Nov 1985; one in the surf at Shackleford Banks, 12 Feb 2002; one found weak or injured along NC 12 in Frisco (Dare), 11 Jan 2014; and one found moribund on the beach at South Nags Head (Dare), 6 Oct 2015. Occurs from mid-Oct to mid-May; most numerous in Mar. Peak counts: 540, off Hatteras, 14 Mar 1998; 215, off Oregon Inlet, 27 Mar 1985; 207, off Cape Hatteras, 26 Mar 1981. However, in the past few years, numbers of more than 10-20 birds on a trip have been rare, though counts of 66 off Hatteras on 6 Feb 2016 and 32 in this area on 20 Feb 2016 are encouraging.
Piedmont No records.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips Your best bet to see a fulmar is to take a winter pelagic trip, but even then it is an iffy proposition, as peak numbers over the years have been somewhat later, in Mar, when very few pelagic birding trips are taken now. A few have been seen on pelagic birding trips in mid-May. You could always try a headboat in Mar, which has produced a few birds, but you are at the mercy of the captains, who often stop the boat for fishing well short of the deeper waters the fulmars prefer.
Attribution LeGrand[2017-10-10], LeGrand[2016-09-28], LeGrand[2016-06-01]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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NA Maps
(source NatureServe)

View NatureServe distribution maps for Fulmarus glacialis