Fulmar and Kittiwake Population Monitoring


Team project. This project is approved and supervised by Dr Ruedi Nager, Lecturer in the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine, School of Life Sciences, University of Glasgow.

Climate change is strongly affecting the temperatures of the Northern Atlantic where sea birds such as the black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) and the Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) rear their young (Frederiksen et al. 2012). Due to high oceanic heat capacity, short term temperature variability is low in oceanic environments, leading to high adaptability to specific thermal environments by many marine ectotherms (Frederiksen et al., 2012). The long-term global temperature increase is negatively affecting many species of pelagic fish, which has caused a decline in piscivorous nesting seabird populations (Frederiksen et al. 2012. Walsh et al., 1995). It is therefore crucial to carefully monitor the populations of these sea birds at their nesting sites, as a decrease in successful rearing will lead to a global decline of these species (Croxall et al., 2012). This project aims to monitor colonies of northern fulmars and black-legged kittiwakes present on a cliff side in terms of breeding success, foraging success, and numbers. The data collected will be compared to that of similar studies conducted over previous years. This project is a continuation from the previous year’s project run by Thomas McGillavry (Iceland Expedition, 2019)­­.


The aim of this project is to monitor the population of black-legged kittiwakes and Northern fulmars in terms of 1) progress of breeding pairs, 2) number of species present at site, and 3) Average number of individuals of Rissa tridactyla and Fulmarus glacialis respectively. Subsequently the data will be compared to population data collected over previous years.


  • Due to continuing climate changes and oceanic temperature increase, a decline in average number of individuals from previous years is expected.
  • The number of species is expected to remain constant.
  • The progress of breeding pairs is expected to decline with the continued increase of oceanic temperature.


Cliff wide general count and Breeding bird nest cliff count:

  • Identification of occupied nest and their location on the cliff. Cliff zones were established using a photograph of the cliff which was sectioned into and labelled.
  • Each plot will be monitored twice per week — breeding progress will be identified by number of chicks per pair, and number of surviving chicks throughout the monitoring period.
  • Each transect will be observed by 2 individuals using binoculars.
  • The number of kittiwakes and fulmars in the transect will be observed and recorded separately.
  • An average will be taken between the two observers for the number of each species and their nests in each cliff zone.
  • This process will be repeated for all cliff zones, producing a final count for both the kittiwakes and fulmars.

Twelve cliff counts will be carried out over the six weeks of the expedition. The numbers collected will be entered into a spreadsheet and a final count will be established using the data from each count. An average number of nesting kittiwakes and fulmars will be determined by using the data collected over the course of the expedition and finding the mean. This will produce a descriptive count of the birds nesting on the cliff as a whole. The data from this year’s count will be compared to the previous years’.


Croxall, J.P, Butchart, S.H.M., Lascelles, B., Stattersfield, A.J. (2012). Seabird conservation status, threats and priority actions: a global assessment. Bird Conservation International. 22(1), pp.1-34.

Frederiksen, M., Anker-Nielsen, T., Beaugrand, G. and Wanless, S. (2012) Climate, copepods and seabird in the boreal Northeast Atlantic – current state and future outlook. Global Change Biology, vol. 19, issue 2. doi: https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.gla.ac.uk/10.1111/gcb.12072 (20/12/2019)

Walsh, D.J., Halley, M.P., Harris, A., del Nevo, I.M.W., Sim, & M.L. Tasker (1995). Seabird monitoring handbook for Britain and Ireland – A compilation of methods for survey and monitoring of breeding seabirds. JNCC: Peterborough.


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