At the height of summer many of us head to the coast and time spent by the sea often brings us into contact with gulls.
It may come as a surprise to learn that there is no specific gull called a ‘seagull’. The term is used to refer to any of 25 species of gull found around the British Isles. In most cases it refers to the herring gull and these large, silver-backed, yellow billed raucous birds have, to some extent, skewed our view of gulls – making them a divisive topic. Whether due to frustration at the noise and mess made by large colonies or their bullish scavenging for food on the seafront, few people would list them as their favourite animals. Despite their bad press there is much to admire about gulls and, whilst they do gather in quite large numbers at favoured sites and numbers inland have increased, globally their number are under threat.
In August, gull numbers start to increase at sites such as Idle Valley, a long-established winter roost. In amongst the more common species there is always the chance of a more unusual group. Along with the herring gulls, other species to look out for include the similarly sized lesser black-backed gull, the striking black-headed gull, possibly my favourite gull, and common gull – a species not as common as its name suggests. On occasion, rarer gulls including the Mediterranean, yellow legged, Caspian and little gull turn up and all were recorded during August in Notts last year.
Having listed several species, I should point out that gull identification is notoriously difficult. For example, the black-headed gull might be more accurately be described as brown-headed and for much of the year it actually has a white head!
If you’re still experiencing flashbacks to a childhood trauma having had your chips stolen whilst on a pier or promenade, I might struggle to convince you of the delights of ‘seagulls’. But, when soaring in the sky, even the largest species are incredibly elegant. Factor in that many pairs mate for life and individuals often live into their twenties and thirties, making them amongst the longest-lived species, and I hope you’re warming to them. Having also considered their adaptability to living alongside people I’d hope most folk would at least offer gulls a grudging level of respect.
Despite their ubiquity, herring gulls are on the ‘Red list’ of species of conservation concern due to significant population decline over recent decades. Numbers of many other UK gulls are also of concern – so perhaps it is time we gave them all a second glance as well as a second chance to earn our affections?
On Sunday 20th August we’ll be hosting a celebration of our ‘Wonderful Wetlands’ at Idle Valley Nature Reserve – so why not come along and see what gulls and other birds you can spot? Further details, including updates on walks and talks, can be found at www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org/events.
For tips on how to tell gulls apart visit www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife/how-identify.
Main image: Herring Gull, Mike Vickers