Northern fulmars usually nest on wide ledges near the top of cliffs but will also nest on more gently sloping land and under boulders.
On St Kilda, inland fulmar nesting is a phenomenon that has expanded in recent decades. A casual sighting of a nesting bird was recorded in 1959 but the first nest in Village Bay was not officially recorded until 1979. Birds now breed throughout the Village area, both on the ground and in/on various stone structures.
In June I checked all potential nesting sites within the Head Dyke for breeding fulmars. This included the inside and roofs of cleits, cottages, planticrues, the base of the Head Dyke wall, gabion baskets and cliff edges. Fulmars projectile vomit a stinky orange coloured oil when they feel threatened but luckily I managed to avoid getting myself covered in this by entering enclosed spaces very carefully when checking for nests. Good thing really, because with the current water shortages on island it would be unpleasant for everyone if I couldn't wash fulmar vomit off my clothes!
photos: (top) Fulmar egg; (bottom) Fulmar egg with oil
Unfortunately, fewer birds were observed nesting on cleit roofs or inside various stone structures this year. But it is my gut feeling that there are more fulmars nesting just outside the Head Dyke and it is possible that the birds have remained local but moved to spots that they have assessed as more suitable. It will be interesting to see whether old sites are used again next year.
This survey is repeated on an annual basis as it is of value to a number of researchers; the archaeologist uses the information to aid with work planning, the Soay Sheep Project need the information to make sure they avoid cleits with nesting birds and Ewan Edwards (PhD student) uses the list to assist sampling effort when catching birds for his research on fulmar foraging behaviour. Ewan is currently on island so don't be alarmed if you see an orange fulmar - he is spraying the birds with a water based dye that causes the birds no harm but immediately makes it obvious whether he has caught the bird or not.