Gulls starting to change
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 firstname.lastname@example.org