Gulls start­ing to change

Middlesbrough Herald & Post - - HERALD & POST -

A brac­ing walk along the beach be­tween Hartle­pool Head­land and Crim­don Dene last week gave me an op­por­tu­nity to have a good look at a few seabirds.

It was in­ter­est­ing to note that many of the black headed gulls have al­ready started to pro­duce black feath­ers around their heads.

These fa­mil­iar gulls, with their red breaks and legs, have dark choco­late brown heads dur­ing the breed­ing sea­son which are re­duced to a dark spot be­hind the eye in autumn and win­ter.

My photo shows a black headed gull which has just started its moult to­wards breed­ing plumage.

Black headed gulls are with us all the year round, though they are not com­monly spot­ted dur­ing the sum­mer in ar­eas where they do not nest.

They nest in large colo- nies, sev­eral of which ex­ist in the Cleve­land area. RSPB Saltholme is an ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple, although there are other well­known an­nual colonies on the edge of moor­land in North York­shire.

Black headed gulls are such a fa­mil­iar sight it is hard to imag­ine that they were quite rare in Bri­tain in the 19th cen­tury.

Their num­bers bal­looned dur­ing the last cen­tury, while they also be­gan to spread in­land from their orig­i­nal coastal habi­tat.

Their ex­pan­sion was boosted by the fact that they will eat any­thing. They have ben­e­fit­ted par­tic­u­larly from the huge amount of hu­man left­overs which are now read­ily avail­able.

As a re­sult, black headed gulls have be­gun to visit our gar­dens. They fea­ture heav­ily in the RSPB’S Big Gar­den Bird­watch re­sults – although the num­bers recorded of­ten in­clude birds which fly over the top of the gar­dens.

I have dis­cov­ered that scraps of bread which I throw out into my gar­den are be­ing taken by her­ring gulls, which can reg­u­larly be spot­ted stand­ing of the roofs in our street.

How­ever, while I have seen three and four her­ring gulls squab­bling over toast and jam left by my grand­kids, I have not ac­tu­ally seen a black headed gull yet land in my gar­den.

One of my most in­ter­est­ing en­coun­ters with black headed gulls came a cou­ple of years ago on a day out at Foun­tains Abbey.

I no­ticed that sev­eral of them were con­tin­u­ally fly­ing up and down the river which runs through Stud­ley Royal and oc­ca­sion­ally swoop­ing on fly­ing in­sects.

On closer in­spec­tion I dis­cov­ered that the prey were mayflies, which were hatch­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously and pro­vid­ing a ready source of easy pick­ings for the black headed gulls.

Eric would like to hear from read­ers about what they have seen. Email him at eric.pay­lor@gmail.com

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