In this week's garden wildlife blog we will be looking at gulls. You might be thinking why gulls are featuring in a garden wildlife blog, when they aren’t typically garden birds. However, with the ever-growing global human population and spread of human territory, they are one of many species moving into urban areas. We are aware that developing urban settings can have negative implications on wildlife. Urbanisation of landscapes affects animal populations worldwide. However, there are plenty examples of animals adapting to urban environments, including gulls. They are one of many animals now taking advantage of the opportunities that come with urbanised areas, such as food sources and nesting habitat. Over the years, during the breeding season they have steadily moved into urban areas to use the roofs of buildings to place their nests. Because of this they are regularly seen flying around and over our gardens, sometimes visiting our gardens, especially if there is food.
Gulls are seabirds of the family Laridae in the suborder Lari. Gulls traditionally nest on islands, cliffs and in coastal areas, but a number of species now have substantial urban breeding populations, including; lesser black-backed, herring and yellow-legged gulls and black-legged kittiwakes. Since the 1980’s, urban gull populations have seen a rapid increase in numbers, while non-urban populations have seen a steady decrease. In this blog we are focusing on two gull species, the lesser black-backed and herring gull. These two species are often over looked and confused, but to tell them apart there are a few simple tricks to follow. Firstly, herring gulls have a pale silver-grey back, whereas the lesser black-backed gull are charcoal grey on the back, both birds have black and white wing tips. They also have different coloured legs; the herring gull has pink legs and the lesser black-backed gull has yellow legs. Play a bit of spot the difference below to learn how to tell them apart:
Of course, they don't always sit there nice and still waiting for you to confirm what species they are, sometimes they are flying around in the air. At first, if you can only see them from underneath, they look identical, especially since they are more or less the same size. However, as you become more familiar with both species, the white on the underneath of their wings can help you identify them from the air. The lesser black-backed gull shows a neat white trailing edge to the wing with a substantial amount of black connecting to the wing tips, the herring gull has whiter wings and less black on their wings. The ratio of white to black when looking at these two birds become more apparent when seeing them both flying at the same time.
April to May is prime time for urban gull surveying, looking for the presence of nests, chicks and territories. Both species create well-constructed nests or scrape nests in the corners and edges of roof tops (see image below). Chicks grow rapidly, almost trebling in size within the first two weeks. In the third week they start to explore their surroundings and exercise their wings, and after around 5 – 7 weeks they will start to make their first flights but will still depend on their mum for some time after. Gulls are notorious for being difficult to identify as juveniles, especially because some take five years to mature and develop their adult plumage. For more details on nesting herring gulls on roof tops, watch the video using the link below.
This increase in urban gull populations has caused some human-gull conflicts to arise. Complaints of aggressive birds, mess, noise and damage to buildings are among the most common reports. Some lethal and non-lethal controls are put in place as a result, but we are yet to see the true effects of using deterrents. With numbers of the herring gull (red status) and lesser black-backed gull (amber) decreasing, it is important that we develop an understanding of these birds in urban settings and how they make use of their environment. Such knowledge will assist with conservation management decisions when going forward and working to protect these declining species. Like all living things, they have an innate tendency to survive and reproduce, ensuring a continuation of their genetics. Hopefully, we can one day find a balance that allows gulls to breed in urban areas without causing conflict.
keep a look out when on your walks, you may well see nesting gulls on roof tops and see them caring for their chicks.
Thanks for reading!
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