Familiarity breeds contempt. Herring gulls are probably no strangers to anyone who lives in northern Europe, and maybe that’s why we think of them as nothing more than a damn nuisance. But they are pretty fascinating when you learn a bit about them.
Herring gulls are such a common sight that a lot of people find it hard to believe they’re actually a species in decline. Their numbers have dropped by 50% in the past 25 years, putting them on the conservation red list. This decline is hidden a bit, because as their numbers have dropped they have also moved into towns and cities, where there are plenty of feeding and nesting opportunities. So we still see as much of them as ever we did.
There’s nothing a gull likes as much as a good feed. They often swoop people for food – they’ve stolen crab baps out of my hand before now, the cheeky buggers – they tear open bin bags, and they have even been reported using pieces of bread as bait to catch fish!
This one regularly visits the same kebab shop on the Isle of Man:
(Incidentally, the header picture at the top of this blog also shows Isle of Man Herring Gulls, swooping over Douglas Bay.)
If you look at the photo, you’ll notice a little red spot on the beak. The young birds knock this red spot when hungry, which then makes the adult regurgitate food for them. (Not haute cuisine, but it’s a living!)
The young have a particular call and flick of the head they do when begging for food from their parents, which they stop doing as adults. But interestingly, adult birds in urban areas, who have been fed by humans, revert to this behaviour to beg for food from people!
Come on. You can’t tell me they aren’t fascinating birds, even if their call could lift the tiles off your roof, and they have a tendency to dive-bomb you!