CC BY-SA, Mat Witt


love of country, a hebridean journey, madeleine bunting, 2016

Location: Small Isles
the natural world

Manx Shearwater: the million mile seabird

“Between a quarter and a third of the world’s population of Manx shearwaters raise their young on Rum.

"They live at sea but return to burrow into the soft scree and earth of the Cuillins to lay their one egg… At night they return to feed their young with fish and squid, their squablings a breathless bubbling of sound, almost that of a baby’s gurgle… The shearwater still intrigues and astonishes the scientists: it winters at sea off Brazil and Uruguay, a journey of over six thousands miles from Rum. It has been estimated that some birds have flown five million miles over their lifetimes.

"A shearwater may do nearly two hundred miles in a few days to gather food for its chick. These enormous distances are only possible because of the remarkable economy of its flight as it glides on stiff wings, low over the slope of the wave as it shears the water’s surface. Its narrow, elegant wings are perfectly adapted for this glide, but makes it difficult for the birds to take off from level ground. They have to use the steep slopes of Rum’s Cuillins to launch themselves… Most of [their] life is spent shearing the waves of the Atlantic Ocean from South America to the Hebrides, with annual forays onto land only to breed, spending a few weeks on Rum on its summer visits.”

Adapted from Madeleine Bunting’s Love of country, a Hebridean journey.

More information on visiting the area can be found here.