Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Gulls - the marmite of the bird world.

Gulls looking good.

A mean greater black backed gull, the top predator on the island.

A herring gull not doing itself any favours.

A beautiful kittiwake, still a gull but somehow a diffrent nature and public image.
A rising roof of gulls.

Cause for concern, herring gulls are declining across the UK.

Gull chicks look great, there are loads dotted about the island at the moment.

The vikings got it right when they named the Isle of May, May coming from the viking word "Mey" for gull. And today that name still applies today as gulls dominate the island and like the vikings they stimulate strong emotions and are often falsely portrayed. Some people hate them but a fewer number love them.
Gulls are prominent all year round but this doesn't mean that you are looking at the same birds all year. Of the 3 species of large gull found on the island (I am not counting the beautiful, delicate cliff nesting kittiwakes in these discussions)the herring gull can be found on the island all the time but large numbers use the island for roosting during the winter and breed elsewhere. The similar sized lesser black-backed gulls have the right idea as they mostly head to Spain for the winter and return in March / April. The greater black-back gull, the largest gull species in the world with a wingspan of nearly 6ft, are seen at all times of the year but large numbers come on to the island for the seal breeding season in October to December to take advantage of all of the afterbirths and casualties. That is the thing about gulls, they are experts at taking advantage of all sorts of food. So though they will eat anything within each individual species there are gulls that specialise. On the island some will patrol the cliffs looking for the unattended chicks and eggs of cliff nesting birds, others harry puffins for the fish that they carry, some mostly take tern chicks and eggs while others head off the the mainland to specialise in feeding on farmland, rubbish dumps or outside chip shops. Of course this makes them unpopular and they certainly don't help their public image when they blatantly, in front of the visitors, snatch fluffy eider and shelduck ducklings from the mothers, eat their gull neighbours chicks and eggs or mug the beloved puffins for their sandeels. They also don't make themselves popular with the island residents as they defend their nests vigorously first by dive bombing and then pooing on you and if that doesn't work by smacking you on the head with their feet as they swoop over. Sometime it seems like they save up the poo just for the residents and they are very good shots, one once filled my eye pieces of my binoculars, luckily I noticed before using them but they still smell a bit.
But gulls are having a hard time themselves. The reduction of rubbish going to landfill and less discarded fish means less available food and in some places herring gulls are declining at quite a rate. They actually have the same conservation value on the Isle of May as the terns and the cliff nesting seabirds.
So I am not saying that you should love them as much as puffins for instance but just admire them for the beautiful birds that they are, marvel at their fabulous flying, swoon over their cute chicks and appreciate that they have a role to play in this whole ecosystem.

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