Bird Families

10 birds with the most unusual defense mechanisms


Bird Foolish - (Fulmarus)
Interesting - Birds
31.03.2012 14:46

In the polar latitudes of the northern and southern hemispheres of the Earth, seabirds with a funny name "silly", They are slightly similar to gulls, but belong to the family of petrels or tubenose (Procellariidae).

Nowadays, there are two species of these birds, fulmars live in the northern hemisphere. Fulmarus glacialis, and in the south - silvery or Antarctic fulmars Fulmarus glacialoides... Like all representatives of petrels, in these birds the nostrils are two horny tubes that open on the surface of the beak, through these tubes, excess salt is released, which is always present in the body of seabirds.

Common fool (Fulmarus glacialis)... Photo by sigmundurasgeirsson.

Fools got their name for the gullibility with which they treat people. Despite this cute, but dismissive nickname, they are not at all defenseless: when enemies attack, fulmars are able to shoot an oily liquid with a peculiar unpleasant smell at them from their beak. This oil spreads over a fairly large distance of 50-100 cm, and sometimes up to two meters. There may be several such "shots", but their intensity and range decreases from time to time. These attacks are possible due to the fact that fulmars have an oily liquid in their proventriculus, consisting of unsaturated fatty acids and triglycerides; at low temperatures, the liquid condenses, turning into wax. The oil varies in color from colorless to deep red-brown, but is more often transparent yellow. In addition to scaring away with the help of a repulsive odor and the effect of surprise, these liquid projectiles, hardening on the plumage of a target bird, can lead to its death, but the fulmars themselves are "immune" to this oil and easily clean it off from their own feathers. In the sea, oil shots serve as protection from predators, but most often this weapon is used in nesting areas, and even chicks use it. The silly man himself needs this oil as a source of energy during long flights and for feeding his chicks. This interesting feature of fulmars gave its name to the genus Fulmarus, which comes from the Old Norse word full, meaning dirty, and mar, meaning seagull.

Fulmar nesting on the rocks... Photo by: John a.k.a. Gio.

Both fulmars are very similar and are separated only by their habitats. Northern fulmars live in the north Atlantic and Pacific oceans, while southern fulmars nest on the coast of Antarctica and on islands adjacent to the mainland. The plumage of northern birds is colored in various shades of gray: from almost white to dark gray and even brownish, the beak is yellow. Their length is 43-52 cm, and their wingspan is 102-112 cm, their legs are short, painted yellowish-green. Antarctic fulmars are 45-50 cm long and have a wingspan of 110-120 cm. Their color is light silver-gray above, white below, the wings have a dark edging and dark tips, legs are pale blue. Fools reach sexual maturity at 6-12 years of age and are capable of living for 40 and sometimes 50 years.

Common fool (Fulmarus glacialis)... Photo by: Birds and Bugs.

Both types of fools nest in pairs or colonies on bare rocks. The creation of a pair is preceded by courtship, which begins on the water, where the male, raising his body high, rhythmically flaps his wings and emits characteristic cries. The birds that live in the Pacific Ocean also open their beaks wide, showing their partner a bright orange throat. After successful mating on the water, the male stays close to the chosen female, after a while she quietly clucks and gently hits her partner with her beak in agreement.Formed couples live together all their lives, during nesting they lay one large white egg in the crevices of rocks sheltered from the wind or on the ground in recesses slightly covered with vegetation and framed by pebbles. Incubation lasts 48-57 days, the parents incubate the egg one by one, remaining alone for 3 to 9 days. At this time, another bird feeds in the sea, but does not move further from the nesting site than 30-40 km.

Inseparable married couple of fulmars... Photo by: paulu.

The hatched chick is covered with dense white-gray fluff, for the first two weeks it is constantly warmed by the father or mother, then it remains alone, and the arriving parents feed it once a day with half-digested fatty paste from cephalopods or jellyfish, so that the little fulmar quickly accumulates fat.

Common fulmar female on clutch... Photo by Steve Greaves.

In the first weeks after hatching, the parents of the chicks have a very hard time, the chicks grow intensively, constantly demand food, more and more every day. Parents take turns flying out of the nest for food, being exposed to danger, reaching in some places to the brink of "life and death." While searching and collecting food for their chicks, adults, but defenseless fulmars, are hunted down by "hunters for easy prey." They are magnificent flyers from the family of frigate detachment pelican-like birds - frigates. The period of rearing of frigates' chicks falls on exactly the same time as that of fulmars, this explains the attacks of frigates on gullible parents who have already filled their beaks with prey. Sly frigates, seeing a tidbit, dive at compassionate fulmars, scare them or attack them, in order to take possession of the provisions they have already fished. In such a specific way, frigates supplement the feeding of their chicks, which significantly saves them time and effort in searching for food, which, unfortunately, cannot be said about defenseless fulmars.

Silvery or Antarctic Fool (Fulmarus glacialoides)... Photo by: pablo_caceres_c.

In this paradoxical situation, the fulmars have an advantage that they do not always use, the fact is that the frigates are absolutely unable to stay on the water, while the fulmars are perfectly on the water.

Silvery or Antarctic Fool (Fulmarus glacialoides)... Photo by Leonardo Herrainz (lherrainz).

A three-week-old chick is already well able to distinguish between parents from other birds, which he inhospitable meets with a protective spit of oil. Young fulmars stay on the nest for 41-57 days, then, only having learned to walk, they move to the sea, where they feed on plankton on the water and gradually deplete the accumulated fat reserves until they fledge and learn to fly.

Silvery or Antarctic Fool (Fulmarus glacialoides)... Photo by: LEXsample.

Fulmars are on solid land only during nesting, and most of their life is spent in the open sea. In the winter season, birds migrate quite far to the equator, the Antarctic species flies north to South Africa, South Australia and New Zealand, and the northern one is found along the northern and western coasts of France, and sometimes reaches Spain, and in the Pacific Ocean - to California. Like all petrels, fulmars are clumsy on land, but they fly beautifully, making several short, quick flaps of their wings, then they glide for a long time above the surface of the water, which they carefully examine in search of prey. In calm weather, birds usually rest on the water, but even a slight breeze allows them to soar over long distances. Silent in the ocean, fulmars in nesting places make loud hoarse, cackling or cackling sounds, and birds in love "utter" soft monotonous and guttural calls.

Silvery fulmar gathers fry washed ashore by storm... Photo by: australex.

Fools feed on fish, snails, crabs, cephalopods, and fish remains. Birds often accompany fishing vessels, stealing fish and catching fish entrails from the surface.They pick up their prey from the surface of the water in flight or catch it by floating on a wave, and sometimes diving to a depth of 4 meters. In places rich in food, fulmars form large flocks, often with other seabirds.

Description of the bird

The body length in males and females is from 45 to 48 cm, the body is dense. The wingspan is about 110 cm. The weight is in the range of 650-850 g. The sizes of individuals of different sex do not differ. The beak is medium in size with a hooked tip. The wings are long, wide, pointed. The tail is medium in size, rounded at the end. Feet are strong and short with sharp nails. The plumage is dense and hard, soft only in the abdomen. In fulmars, two types of plumage are distinguished: light and dark. Already by the way the downy chicks look, you can accurately determine the type of their future color. The first downy outfit of light fulmars is distinguished by white plumage on the head, neck and tummy, in the center of which there is a gray spot. The back and wings of the chick are gray. In the dark variant, the color is smoky gray; in the second down robe, in the light variety, the head becomes darker, acquiring a gray color, like on the back. The young growth is the same as the adult birds in plumage. The adult fulmars have a white head and tummy, sometimes grayish. The back is gray with a brown tinge. The flight and upper coverts on the wings are dark gray, the lower ones are light gray. Dark gray rings are visible around the eyes, and gray spots are located behind the eyes. There are individuals of both pure white with a slight gray tint on the back, and birds completely painted in pearl gray. Dark fulmars are distinguished by a smoky gray color with a predominance of gray or brown shades. Their feathers can be white only along the edge. The wings are dark. Legs pale green to yellowish. The iris is brown. The color of the beak changes with the seasons. In spring and summer, the beak is light green. It turns dark green in autumn. Moreover, the grayer the plumage of the bird, the darker its beak.

Nutritional features of fulmars

The fulmar's main diet includes fish, fish eggs, molluscs, crustaceans and other invertebrates. The favorite delicacy of the Antarctic fulmar is Antarctic krill. On occasion, the bird can feed on fish waste, carrion, and the insides of aquatic mammals. During the nesting period, fulmars also feast on plants. Fulmars hunt in the sea, but not in flight, but sinking to the surface of the water. In search of food, the bird lowers its head into the water up to its eyes. Seeing the prey, it immediately grabs it with its beak and swallows it whole. From the coast, fulmars fly away no more than 200 km, and often look for their food near fishing boats. The fools are very fond of eating, they are able to swallow pieces of meat up to 500 g. their digestion is fast, and within a couple of hours after feeding the fulmars go hunting again.


Antarctic Fulmar Egg
It feeds mainly on crustaceans, mainly Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba

). Among other seabirds, Antarctic fulmar is an indicator of the presence of Antarctic krill aggregations. The diet also contains small fish, primarily the pelagic Antarctic silverfish (
Pleuragramma antarcticum
), squid genera
, carrion and food waste. It feeds at any time of the day, both day and night. Sometimes observed near fishing vessels, where it feeds on fish waste that falls overboard.


Breeds in colonies in isolated groups of up to several hundred pairs, occasionally breeds in separate pairs, sometimes among other petrels on protected rock ledges or in niches. Mating takes place from late October - mid November to mid December. The laying of eggs in most pairs occurs approximately 50 days after arriving at the nesting sites in October. In clutch there is one egg, which is incubated by both partners, replacing each other in 3-9 days. The incubation period is about 45-46 days.Approximately 20-25 days after hatching, the chick completes the formation of its own thermoregulation and the parents stop heating it. In general, the reproductive period in this species lasts about 150-160 days.

Bird spread

The fulmars' distribution area includes the northern regions of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Bering Strait, the Commander Islands, the Kuril Islands and the Aleutian Islands. The bird also nests on numerous islands off the coast of North America and Greenland. During the migration period, fulmars are found in California, Spain and the Japanese islands, as well as in Scandinavian countries, Germany, France, Canada, USA, Russia.

Common types of fulmars

The two species of fulmars differ mainly in their distribution area. Common fulmars live in the northern waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, while silvery or Antarctic fulmars live off the coast of Antarctica.

Common fulmar

The length of the bird's body reaches 48 cm. The wingspan is up to 110 cm. The weight is from 600 to 900 g. The constitution is dense, the yellow beak is strong and short. There are two types of color: light (white head, neck and abdomen, smoky wings, back and tail) and dark (dark gray or brown color with black tips of the wings). The paws are blue. Common in the Pacific Northwest, as well as in the Sea of ​​Okhotsk and the Bering Sea, the voice of the common fulmar sounds like a low trumpet cackle.

Antarctic fulmar

A medium-sized bird with a dense build. It differs from the common fulmar with a long and thin beak and the absence of individuals with a dark version of plumage. The body length of the bird is up to 50 cm, the wingspan is from 114 to 120 cm, the weight is within 650-800 g. The plumage on the back is light silver-gray, on the belly and the lower surface of the wings is white. A black and white pattern is visible on the wings above. There are light gray spots in front of the eye. The color of the beak varies from pink to blue-gray, the tip is dark. The legs are pink-blue, the claws are dark. The species is common in the Southern Hemisphere off the coast of Antarctica.


Today there are two kinds of fulmars. These are Fulmarus glacialis, which live in the northern hemisphere, and Antarctic ones - Fulmarus glacialoides. Representatives of these species are very similar to each other, they are distinguished only by their habitat.

The common fulmars are common in the northern seas from the polar ice border to Britain. Previously, they were residents exclusively of the Far North, but recently they have spread far to the south, as their number has increased greatly.

Atlantic representatives inhabit an area stretching from pack ice in the south to tropical latitudes in the area of ​​cold currents.

Fools are nomadic birds. During the migration period, they move closer to the equator.

Birds live on land only during the nesting period, spending most of their life at sea.

Means of protection from enemies

Despite the fact that silly people look very defenseless, they are not. When the enemy attacks, they are able to defend themselves by shooting an oily liquid with an unpleasant odor at it from their beak. Even the chicks have the skill of a sniper.

This substance is found in the bird's proventriculus. It contains fatty acids and triglycerides. At low air temperatures, such a liquid turns into wax. It can range in color from translucent to reddish brown.

This method of protecting fulmars not only has the effect of surprise and the ability to scare away through an unpleasant smell, but is also quite dangerous for the enemy. Getting on the feathers of a bird and freezing, the oily liquid sticks them together, which is why the bird can neither fly nor swim, which sometimes ends in death from hypothermia. The fools themselves do not suffer from this: they know how to cleanse their feathers from this substance.

The main purpose of the oily liquid is to serve as a kind of "fuel" and to provide an abundance of energy for the bird during long flights. It is also used as food for chicks.

This is where the name Fulmarus comes from, which in translation from Old Norse means full - "dirty", mar - "seagull".

Interesting facts about the bird

  • Fulmar populations are quite large and consist of about 15 million birds. Most of them live in North America. The largest population (2 million birds) lives on the island of Svalbard.
  • The meat of fulmars, both adult birds and chicks, is eaten after thorough cleaning of fat. In addition, people collect delicious fulmars' eggs. The down of chicks and the feathers of adults, as well as the oily liquid from their stomachs, are used for technical purposes.
  • Fools are long-livers among birds, their life expectancy reaches 40-50 years.
  • There are wildlife sanctuaries in Scotland where fulmars are listed as protected species.


Despite the fact that fulmars are game birds, these birds are not threatened with extinction. They are hunted on a small scale, as the meat is not considered tasty enough. An exception is the Umanaka region, where the collection of fulmars' eggs is common. Hunting for them is prohibited here from mid-June to mid-August.

The population of fulmars is quite large. In the Atlantic, there are about three million representatives of this species, and in the Pacific Ocean - about four million individuals.

2. Dissemination

Breeds circumpolar-Antarctic on the Antarctic Peninsula and the Antarctic islands of South Georgia, South Sandwich, South Orkney, South Shetland, Bouvet, Balleny, Peter I and some other coastal islands and localities of the Antarctic coast.

It inhabits sea areas of the Southern Hemisphere from the zone of pack ice in the south to tropical latitudes in the north in the zones of cold coastal currents. In summer, it inhabits mainly cold waters around the pack ice and a belt of icebergs extending northward up to 60 ° S. sh.

Article source:

Birds species.

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