Fulmar were one of the staples of the St. Kildan diet, and were
harvested in their thousands each year. Records for 1910 show that
9,600 Fulmar were caught.
The birds were not only useful for their meat, but their feathers were also used as part-payement for rent of the land. In a report on the island in 1875 it was noted that 566 gallons of Fulmar oil, 2103 lbs of black feathers and 1675 of grey feathers were collected that year. The oil, which is foul smelling, was used by the people of St. Kilda as a fuel for lamps.
Fulmar oil was also used to anoint the umbilical cord of newborn children. This may well have been the reason why so many newborns died of tetanus within a few days of birth. A district nurse sent to the island stopped the practice of anointing with the oil and deaths from tetanus ceased.
Fulmars are related to the albatross and are identifiable by the prominent, tubular nostrils on top of their bills. Breeding pairs are monogamous and rejoin their mates each year at the same nest site. Fulmars are one of the few species of bird with a well-developed sense of smell, which they employ to detect fish oil scents when searching for prey.
In Britain, Northern Fulmars historically bred on St. Kilda, and spread into northern Scotland in the 19th century, and to the rest of the United Kingdom by 1930.
These three Fulmar are sitting on one of the cleits in the village and began calling loudly as I passed by.
(Best seen on black)
For more information on St. Kilda and its fascinating history go to the National Trust for Scotland site at: www.kilda.org.uk/