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.
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. 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. 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 Black Guillemot
The Black Guillemot is medium-sized at 32-38 cm in length, and with a 49-58 cm wingspan. Adult birds have black bodies with a white wing patch, a thin dark bill and red legs and feet. They show white wing linings in flight. In winter, the upperparts are pale grey and the underparts are white. The wings remain black with the large white patch on the inner wing.
The Herring gull is white with a pale grey back and wings. Their wings are black tipped while they possess a powerful yellow with red spots bill, yellow eyes and can be seen to have pink feet. In winter, the birds head has brownish streaks. Juvenile herring gulls are speckled brown, with black terminal tail-band, gradually attaining adult plumage in the fourth year. They have a very vocal call with a repeated 'kyow'. Their alarm call on their breeding ground resembles a 'ga- ga- ga' sound.
The Razorbill, Alca torda, is a large auk, 38-43 cm in length, with a 60-69 cm wingspan. It is the only living member of the genus Alca. Adult birds are black on their upperparts and white on the breast and belly. The thick black bill has a blunt end. The tail is pointed and longer than that of a Murre. In winter, the black face becomes white.
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 Manx Shearwater
This bird is 30-38 cm long, with a 76-89 cm wingspan. It has the typically "shearing" flight of the genus, dipping from side to side on stiff wings with few wingbeats, the wingtips almost touching the water. This bird looks like a flying cross, with its wing held at right angles to the body, and it changes from black to white as the black upperparts and white undersides are alternately exposed as it travels low over the sea. This is a gregarious species, which can been seen in large numbers from boats or headlands, especially on passage in autumn. It is silent at sea, but at night the breeding colonies are alive with raucous cackling calls. The Manx Shearwater feeds on small fish (particularly herring, sprat and sardines), crustaceans, cephalopods and surface offal. The bird forages individually or in small flocks, and it makes use of feeding marine mammals and schools of predatory fish, which push prey species up to the surface. It does not follow boats.
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.
Guillemot is the common name for several species of seabird in the auk family, comprising two genera: Uria and Cepphus. It is a black and white sea bird with a narrow pointed bill. Often has white eye-ring and narrow stripe behind its eye. In winter, checks, chin and neck are white and has a dark line behind its eye. Guillemots breeding on inaccessible cliffs on rocket coasts and islands with some colonies containing thousands of birds. In winter, most of them go far out to sea, occasionally inshore in bad weather. Guillemots dive for fish from the surface, they also swim well under water using their wings. They often sit upright on the nesting ledges.
The boat departs daily from Portmagee pier at approximately 10:00am, weather permitting. The boat trip to the Skelligs takes 45 minutes and you have between 2 hours and 2 hours 30 minutes on the rock. The boat stops for a while at the Little Skelligs to allow you to view the bird colony and seals. The return boat trip lasts a further 45 minutes and you are back in Portmagee at around 3 o' clock. It is advisable to book at least 2 days in advance.