Fair Isle is home to an internationally important population of breeding seabirds, with over 250,000 birds of 18 different species nesting on the isle.
Each year since 1986, Fair Isle Bird Observatory has been carrying out a detailed annual Seabird Monitoring Programme funded by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).
Fair Isle Seabird Reports for JNCC can be found in the Fair Isle Bird Observatory's Annual Reports.
Fair Isle Bird Observatory’s long run of seabird monitoring data going back to 1969 is available to view on the JNCC website.
'Fair Isle Seabirds - annual results and long-term population trends' are also available in some of FIMETI Newsletters 'Making Waves'. (eg Newsletter No 10, March 2013, pages 11 to 19)
(The following information is courtesy of Fair Isle Bird Observatory Annual Reports. All photographs are Copyright Deryk Shaw/Fair Isle Bird Observatory.)
Northern Gannet, Morus bassanus
Breeds in large numbers, seen offshore all year.
There were just three pairs of Gannets when the species first bred on Fair Isle in 1976. There has been a continual and rapid rise in the Gannet breeding population on the Isle from a new record of 1,957 pairs in 2007 to almost 4,000 breeding pairs in 2012. Interestingly, the growth of the population has halted, at least momentarily. Numbers have increased steadily on a virtually annual basis for the last 35 years, but the 2012 census indicated a small (5.45%) decrease from the previous year.
The species is well adapted to foraging at large distances, returning to the colony with more than one sizable fish in its gullet. The extended period of time between hatching and fledging is also an adaptation for the chick to sustain waits between feeds. These will be major contributors to its success, which is shared by populations throughout the North Atlantic.
European Shag, Phalacrocorax aristotelis
Atlantic Puffin, Fratercula arctica, with sandeels
Summer visitor, breeds in large numbers. The first birds arrive back on Fair Isle in March and large numbers are usually present until early August before dropping to low single figures following the post-breeding exodus. Puffins appear to have fared better than the other auk species, however, they are also having to turn to other food items as their favoured Sandeels have declined dramatically in number.
Adult Black-legged Kittiiwakes, Rissa tridactyla, on nests
Over 250,000 seabirds of 18 different species nest on the island, ten of which nest on Fair Isle in nationally or internationally important numbers, these being: Fulmar, Gannet, Shag, Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Kittiwake, Arctic Tern, Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin. Other species nest in smaller numbers, these being Storm Petrel, Eider, Common Tern, Black Guillemot, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Common Gull.
Common Guillemot colony, Uria aalge
Common autumn passage migrant; breeds in large numbers. In 2007, numbers of Guillemots on Fair Isle's Seabird Monitoring plots were the lowest on record (32.5% less than in 2006) and only small numbers of eggs were laid. Whilst Guillemots preferred food is Lesser Sandeels these have been in short supply and other food samples have been recorded, including Snake Pipefish and Gadoids.
Dark Phase Arctic Skua, Stercorarius parasiticus
Fair Isle is home to one of the most important Arctic Skua colonies in Britain.
In recent years, food shortages have caused poor breeding success.
Acrtic Skua breeding population
Arctic Skuas have been in trouble since 1998 with falling numbers and very low breeding success. The years 2003 – 2005 saw a total of just ten birds fledge. Things improved dramatically in 2006 with the highest number of AOT (105) since the early 1990s and good productivity (0.82). In 2007 however, the situation deteriorated once again and from 68 AOT (a 35.2% decrease), not a single chick fledged.
Great Skua, Stercorarius skua, defending its nest.
Frequent passage migrant, breeds in moderate numbers. With recent food shortages, Great Skuas (known locally as 'Bonxies') are now predating other seabirds more to feed themselves and their young.
Young Great Skua, Stercorarius skua.
Arctic Terns, Sterna paradisaea.
Summer visitor, breeds in large numbers. These Arctic Terns died from starvation, the consequence of recent food shortages during the important breeding season.