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 10 years.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S1N
Global Rank G5
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. Seldom seen from shore, and most such records are of birds found dead on beaches; at least six such records, with one found moribund on the beach at South Nags Head (Dare) being very early on 6 Oct 2015. Occurs from mid-Oct to mid-May; most numerous in Mar. A count of 24 off Ocracoke Island on 7 Oct 2017 was a large number for so early in the fall season. 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, 32 in this area on 20 Feb 2016, and 36 on 24 Feb 2018 are encouraging. Even more encouraging was a tally of 130 off Oregon Inlet on 26 Feb 2023 -- probably the first triple-digit count in 20 years.
Piedmont No records.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips Your best bet to see a fulmar is to take a winter pelagic trip, particularly later in winter (Feb to Mar). You likely have somewhat better than a 50-50 chance in these months, but somewhat less in Jan and earlier.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-05-17], LeGrand[2023-03-15], LeGrand[2018-06-09]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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