Monday Bird of the Week No.32 – Black-headed gull

_DSC7875 (506x1024)Earlier this year we featured corvids, birds that are not everybody’s cup of tea. This week we are back championing the underdog with the raucous and increasingly numerous Black-headed Gull.

Let me set my stall out here by acknowledging the squawking of a gull really can be very off-putting. But I think that contributes to people dismissing what is, especially in winter plumage, quite a pretty and delicately marked bird. As we have said before, familiarity breeds contempt.

That contradiction, a bird that looks delicate and sounds aggressive, is carried on when we look at their behaviour. They are sociable, forming huge flocks at inland breeding colonies and food sources, yet simultaneously rambunctious, fighting amongst themselves.

Black-headed gulls with chicks of various ages

Black-headed gulls with chicks of various ages

Despite being our most common gull at inland locations, only around 150,000 pairs breed here. However in winter the population is boosted by migrant birds that mean two million or more may be around. Such numbers are a little misleading though, and it remains a species of conservation concern.

One of the best ways to see them in winter is just to stand and look up at dawn or dusk, as they move between roosts and feeding sites. Large numbers will often pass over in a ‘V’ formation.

It is a bird that best exemplifies how misleading the common term ‘seagull’ is, with at least as many birds nesting inland as nest at the coast. Even coastal populations tend to nest slightly inland in fields rather than on cliffs.

They may also be a bit of an unexpected conservation hero. Despite the reputation gulls have for eating the eggs and chicks of other birds, a recent study suggested ducks and other waterbirds that nest near Black-headed gulls raise more chicks successfully than those elsewhere.

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I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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