Birds of Skellig Michael

The earliest reference in history to the Skellig Islands dates back to 600AD. During the time of the Penal Laws, Skellig Michael and Little Skellig became a haven for many Catholics whose beliefs and rights were being suppressed. The largest of the Skelligs is Skellig Michael (Sceilg Mhichil) and was home to one of the earliest monastic settlements in Ireland.
The monks of St. Fionan’s monastery led simple lives and lived in stone, beehive shaped huts. They would descend the 670 steps early every morning and fish for the morning’s breakfast and would spend the rest of the day praying in the church, tending to their gardens and studying. The huts, which are round on the outside and rectangular on the inside, were carefully built so that no drop of rain ever entered between the stones. The monks left the island in the thirteenth century and it became a place of pilgrimage. There is a fantastic wealth of birdlife on and around the Skelligs, especially puffins in late spring and gannets on the Small Skellig.

The Gannet

The gannet is Ireland’s largest seabird, with a wingspan of two metres. The little Skellig is home to nearly 70,000 of them, making it the second largest gannet colony in the world. Gannets catch fish by plunging into the shoals from a great height. Gannets can dive from a height of 30 m, achieving speeds of 100 km/h as they strike the water, enabling them to catch fish much deeper than most airborne birds.

The Puffin

An unmistakable bird with its black back and white underparts, and distinctive black head with large pale cheeks and a tall, flattened, brightly-coloured bill. Its comical appearance is heightened by its red and black eye-markings and bright orange legs. They breed in large colonies on coastal cliffs or offshore islands, nesting in crevices among rocks or in burrows in the soil and feed primarily by diving.

The puffin shed the colourful outer parts of their bills after the breeding season, leaving a smaller and duller beak. Their short wings are adapted for swimming with a flying technique under water. In the air, they beat their wings rapidly (up to 100 times per minute) in swift flight, often flying low over the ocean’s surface. Used as a symbol for books and other items, this clown among seabirds is one of the world’s favourite birds.

The Arctic Tern

The Arctic Tern is medium-sized bird approximately 33-36 cm (13-15 in) from the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail. The wingspan is 76-85 cm.[8] The weight is 86-127 g (3.0-4.5 oz). The beak is dark red, as are the short legs and webbed feet. Like most terns, the Arctic Tern has high aspect ratio wings and a tail with a deep fork.[8] The adult plumage is grey above, with a black nape and crown and white cheeks. The upperwings are pale grey, with the area near the wingtip being translucent. The tail is white, and the underparts pale grey. Both sexes are similar in appearance. The winter plumage is similar, but the crown is whiter and the bills are darker Juveniles differ from adults in their black bill and legs, “scaly” appearing wings, and mantle with dark feather tips, dark carpal wing bar, and short tail streamers. During their first summer, juveniles also have a whiter forecrown.

The Fulmar

Gull- Like but stockier with thicker head and neck. Fulmars have greyish upper parts and a white head and body, their ‘tuber nose’ bill and the straightness of the wings in flight make identification easy. Common around all coasts with nesting ledges. In winter the Fulmars disperse over the sea often following fishing boats fro discarded fish scraps. Intruders to the nest are attacked with a vile-smelling oil which the fulmers spit at them. The birds may also spend hours gliding past a possible nesting ledge trying to land on it, only to be repelled by other birds.

The Cormorant

Cormorants and shags are medium-to-large seabirds. They range in size from the Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmaeus), at as little as 45 cm (18 in) and 340 g (12 oz), to the Flightless Cormorant (Phalacrocorax harrisi), at a maximum size 100 cm (40 in) and 5 kg (11 lb). The recently-extinct Spectacled Cormorant (Phalacrocorax perspicillatus) was rather larger, at an average size of 6.3 kg (14 lb). The majority, including nearly all Northern Hemisphere species, have mainly dark plumage, but some Southern Hemisphere species are black and white, and a few (e.g. the Spotted Shag of New Zealand) are quite colourful. Many species have areas of coloured skin on the face (the lores and the gular skin) which can be bright blue, orange, red or yellow, typically becoming more brightly coloured in the breeding season. The bill is long, thin, and sharply hooked. Their feet have webbing between all four toes, as in their relatives.