Night Bird (Skelligs), Mackerel Cock, Cocklolly, Manx Puffin
Status: Summer visitor to all coasts from March to August.
Conservation Concern: Amber-listed in Ireland due to its localised breeding population with more than 90% breeding at less than ten sites. The European population has been assessed as Localised for the same reason.
Identification: A black and white seabird, black above and white below. Long narrow wings, which are used for gliding low over waves, with hardly a wing beat employed to aid flight. Characteristic switchback flight action with bird banking over waves, which it employs for lift, showing black and then white, then black and so on. Straight bill with hooked tip and tube-shaped nostrils on the upper mandible, giving distinctive bill shape if seen at close range. Nostrils used to excrete salt. Confusion with other seabirds unlikely. Confusion with other species of rare shearwater, which are sometimes found in Irish water in good numbers, possible in the late summer.
Call: Calls at colonies. Eerie, loud, raucous, chuckling or cackling "sgaga-cack-cack-cack", rising and descending with frequent high-pitched "hyterical" notes. Silent when at sea.
Diet: Taken from the sea by diving. Small fish, plankton, molluscs and crustaceans.
Breeding: Spends most of its life at sea and only comes to land in the breeding season, which is protracted, through the summer. Mostly breeds on uninhabited off-shore islands, largely free from mammalian predators, often in huge numbers. Breeds underground in burrows and will only return to colonies on dark, moonless nights. Manx Shearwaters cannot walk on land and can only drag themselves over the ground and into their burrows, making them vulnerable to gull predation. In Ireland, the largest colonies are found in Co. Kerry, with the Blasket Islands having the greatest numbers. Colonies are also found on the east coast, on the Saltees off Co. Wexford and Copeland Island, Co. Down. Birds at sea could also be from British colonies, Britain has 90% of the world population, with large colonies on Rhum in Scotland, as well as on the Pembrokeshire Islands.
Wintering: Winters at sea in the South Atlantic off South America.
Where to See: There is always a chance of seeing this species from any coast during the summer months, however, viewing from headlands in County Kerry and especially off the Dingle Peninsular should be more productive. Can be commonly seen from ferries crossing the Irish Sea, easily outpacing the observers vessel.
Monitored by: Breeding seabirds are monitored through surveys carried out every 15-20 years, the last was Seabird 2000, which was undertaken between 1998 & 2002.