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Sea birds of the Faroe Islands

Population Size
It is estimated that there are some 2 million pairs of birds on the Faroe Islands. The largest change in recent times was the huge invasion of the Fulmars in the early 19th century. Fluctuations in the seabird populations stem from a variety of natural causes, and in general the populations have seen a decrease since the late 1950s. In the 1980s and early 1990s there was a scarcity of food in the seas around the Faroe Islands. This scarcity was an issue for everyone on the Islands as fishing is a major industry, and it also led to a reduction in sea bird numbers.

Feeding habits
Among the various seabird populations in the Faroes, there is considerable variance in habitat, life cycle and especially in how they forage for food. Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Storm Petrels hunt for food on the surface of the ocean as they are unable to dive. Gannets and Terns, on the other hand, are able to dive below the surface, while Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots can swim some 50 to 180 meters deep.

Eiders, Black Guillemots and Shags, however, stay close in to the shore for the most part and may dive down to the bottom to forage. The Skuas are considered the most opportunistic of foragers and are not above stealing food from other seabirds.

All seabirds lay their eggs and brood on land, thus they must come ashore during the breeding season. In the Faroes, you will see Guillemots, Kittiwakes, and Puffins all gathering during the season to breed in large colonies, each species claiming their own distinct part of the cliffs.

Seabirds are very vulnerable when ashore so they usually situate their nests in inaccessible nooks and ledges on the cliff face. Puffins, Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels have suffered severely from marauding rats that escape from visiting ships but are not native. For hundreds of years seabirds have been of great importance to the Faroese households, but the hunt for seabirds has led to a decline in some local populations.

As soon as the chicks fledge, the seabirds disperse back to sea. Most seabirds migrate long distances in winter. The Arctic Tern will fly south towards the Antarctic before returning; the Faroese Guillemots can be found off the coast of Norway and in the North Sea, while a part of the English and Icelandic Guillemot populations come to the Faroes. Razorbills from Iceland and Little Auks from further north also appear here in the winter. Gannets are present in the North Atlantic all year round, but some, especially the young, will fly south all the way to North Africa's west coast.