Feathers with a story

Published on
July 13, 2016

Our research into plastics ingested by Northern Fulmars has additional benefits. As a standard component of our study, moult of the feathers is recorded because it tells us something about age and breeding status or potential cause of death of the bird. These data on feather moult have now been used in a publication by Lucy Quinn en colleagues.

Like in a detective’s investigation, the data from tracking devices, isotope analyses of feathers, and our knowledge of the moult of those feathers are combined to trace the distant oceanic wintering areas of fulmars. On the basis of such knowledge, just a few feathers of handled birds can be used to identify the individuals wintering area.   


Northern fulmars tracked

On the Scottish island of Eynhallow (Orkney eilanden) a research group of Aberdeen University runs a long term study of now over 60 years of the local colony of Northern Fulmars. Most birds can be recognised from a distance as each individual has a unique combination of colour rings. Repeated observations over many years has shown these beach grow really old, up to tens of years. This long term study has already produce a lot of valuable knowledge.

Birds with GLS logger

Some of the ringed birds have been given a temporary Geo Location Sensor (GLS logger) attached to one of the colourrings. These loggers record of the position where the bird has been. After winter such birds have to be recaptured to retrieve the logger and download the data. Recapturing the same birds is not always easy, and intensive attempts to catch birds is disturbing and not desirable. However, taking of a few belly feathers of birds handled just once in the standard ringing program is easy.


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