Belfast Telegraph

The baby birds preparing to leap off these 300ft cliffs...before they've learned how to fly

By Linda Stewart

The last few remaining seabird chicks hatched on the sheer cliffs of Rathlin are preparing to throw themselves 300ft into the waves far beneath.

Unlike most birds, the 'jumplings' – fluffy razorbill and guillemot chicks – leave the nest before they can fly and have to take a massive leap of faith as they plummet over the edge of the daunting precipice.

Reserve warden Liam McFaul said: "The male bird lies in the water offshore and calls to the chick to encourage it down from its ledge.

"They make a very loud 'whirring' noise and the chick, recognising the call, plucks up the courage to jump into the unknown.

"Once the chick has landed safely, the entire family will spend the next few weeks out at sea as the parents teach it how to feed and protect it from predators until it is able to fend for itself."

The vulnerable chicks make their unusual departure around dusk as in the late evening there is less chance of predatory gulls swooping down and snapping them up as a snack.

However, time is running out to see the remaining jumplings in action as guillemots, razorbills and puffins are already making their way back to sea, closely followed by kittiwakes and fulmars.

The RSPB is advising anyone who wants to catch the phenomenon to book a place on the ferry from Ballycastle to enjoy watching some of the island's most iconic summer residents take flight.

"Giving nature a home is what we're all about, so when the young birds leave home we're always a little sad to see them go," Mr McFaul said.

"But we are doing all we can to safeguard their feeding areas to ensure they return next year."

Rathlin Island, six miles off the north coast, is a Special Area of Conservation because of its precious wildlife and landscape.

At the west of the island is the renowned RSPB Seabird Centre, where puffins, guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes can be viewed during the summer months.

The centre is also home to some magnificent views. On clear days Donegal, the North Antrim coastline, the island of Islay and the Mull of Kintyre can be seen.

QUOTE

"The male bird lies in the water offshore and calls to the chick to encourage it down from its ledge. They make a very loud 'whirring' noise and the chick, recognising the call, plucks up the courage to jump into the unknown. Once the chick has landed safely the entire family will spend the next few weeks out at sea as the parents teach it how to feed and protect it from predators until it is able to fend for itself."

Rathlin Reserve warden Liam McFaul

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