The secret lives of our sea birds

September 15th, 2010 by States of Guernsey Environment Department

Next time you’re on Cobo enjoying a bag of chips take another look at that gull eagerly watching you. If it’s got a coloured ring on its leg this bird is part of a study to understand more about the habits and movements of sea birds. Note the number, let one of the ornithologists know and the results may surprise you.

For many years it was thought that gulls stayed close to home but Lesser Black-backed gulls ringed as chicks in Guernsey have been sighted in Spain, Portugal and even Morocco. These birds enjoy some winter sunshine before returning to the Channel Islands to breed. It’s amazing to think that a tiny helpless chick ringed on Burhou can fly to Spain after just a few weeks.

Lesser black-backed gull ©Paul Veron 2010 (click image to expand)

We now also know that gulls ringed in Iceland, Norway and Poland come to Guernsey during the autumn and winter months. The information from ringed birds usually only tells us when and where it was born and usually where it died when the ring is found but the highly visible coloured rings on sea birds can be read while the bird is still alive in the wild.

The Guernsey Seabird Team is a small group of dedicated ornithologists who ring seabird chicks through the Bailiwick, recording the site, the health of the bird and the breeding success of the colonies including small islands such as Burhou, Lihou, and rocky outcrops and outlets off Jethou and Sark. The seabird chicks ringed include Northern Gannets, European Shag, Great Cormorant, Razorbills, Common Guillemots and Atlantic Puffins but the Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls are of particular interest for the scientific studies underway feeding data into the British Seabird Monitoring Programme. Local researchers are also linking up with similar projects run across Western Europe.

Paul Veron holding a lesser black-backed gull chick on Burhou, Alderney (click image to expand)

One of the biggest colonies of Great Black-backed Gulls is on Lissroy shingle bank, Lihou, access to this area is restricted between 1st January and 1st August to allow the chicks to be reared in peace. Some birds are more adventurous, choosing to nest alongside footpaths so keep a careful eye out for eggs and small chicks when you’re walking around Lihou during June and July.

Richmond, Vazon, is another place where sea birds, particularly waders, need our help. The long gravelly stretch of sand and rock pools at Richmond provide the best feeding ground in Guernsey and the Environment Department works with the RSPB Guernsey Group and La Société Guernesiaise to raise awareness that birds in this area should be left in peace. Tired birds fly thousands of miles during spring and autumn migrations but if they’re disturbed regularly by dogs they lose valuable energy which weakens the birds. Most dog owners also love wildlife and are understanding once it’s explained why Richmond should be a dog-free beach to give these birds the best chance of survival.

lesser black-backed gull ©Paul Veron 2010 (Click image to expand)

If you note the letter and numbers on a colour ring on a bird, or you’re interested in finding out about Guernsey’s local bird scene contact La Société Guernesiaise or RSPB Guernsey Group

For news on the secret lives of our gulls go to www.guernseygulls.co.uk and www.guernseygulls.blogspot.com

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