Each week, I head out on to the reserve to monitor a selection of herring gull nests. This year I’m keeping an eye on around 20 AOS (apparently occupied sites) that I’ve marked up across the reserve, between Jubilee Corner and Staple Newk viewpoints. But after some rather interesting weather conditions and some incredible vegetation growth here, there are few plots that I’ve not been able to see much of! Now, I’m keeping an eye on nests from Bartlett Nab, all the way up to our Staple Newk viewpoint (and a little beyond).
Image: Herring Gull and chicks, Poppy Rummery
When I head out on to the cliffs, I take some useful bits of kit with me. This includes things like my weather writer folder with plot photographs and recording sheets, a telescope (for those further away plots) and my binoculars. I tend to spend a couple of hours out on the reserve to make sure that I have the best chance of seeing what’s going on at each of my nests. So far, I have around 17 chicks to keep an eye on across 22 nest sites.
Herring gulls will breed on the sheer cliffs here using grassy ledges and rock to build their nests. They are really simple in structure and are often just lined with grass. Did you know that some birds have been known to use the same nest site for 20 years!? That’s a super long time.
Between April and May, herring gulls will lay anywhere between 2-3 eggs. Their eggs are smooth, olive to brown in colour and have lots of dark brown spots and streaks on them. From here they will incubate them for around 4 weeks and from there they will fledge at around 5 weeks old. Unlike some of our other seabirds, the adults may care for the young for up to 6 months after this.
Like lots of our birds, herring gulls need to grow up a bit before they start breeding. They’ll start to breed after 4 years and will pair for life. Sweet right?! Their typical lifespan is around 12 years.
Unfortunately, the UK population has declined by around 50% and this is mirrored in the population here at Bempton. In 2019, we had our lowest recorded productivity since we started our monitoring programme back in 2009. It’s pretty difficult to know the cause of this, but it could be down to things like lack of suitable food/prey and also poor weather conditions during critical periods of the breeding season.
Head over to our Facebook and Twitter pages to join me for a quick look around as I head out to monitor my herring gulls. I’ll be sharing updates on chicks later in the month, so keep your eyes peeled for more!
Absolutely! Hopefully we'll be seeing some better productivity this year and will be able update you on this and the season progresses. Ah yes, they've got the right idea there!
Fingers crossed that the breeding population you do have is successful. You're right about the continuing parental care ..... and the youngsters always seem to feel that their parents are there to be chased, no matter how long ago they fledged!
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