Gulls see red

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We're all familiar with the plight of many of our native and migratory birds but the most recent RSPB 'red list' certainly makes for an interesting read. The last one was published in 2002 and a total of 246 species have been reviewed since then.

Nearly a quarter of some of our most familiar birds are in real trouble due to loss of habitat and changes in farming methods, as well as the way our houses are now constructed - making it harder for species such as sparrows and swift to build their nests.

Kestrels, lapwings, house sparrows and even starlings have been widely reported in the press over the years but scrolling down the list I was amazed to see that herring gulls were also included?

It's the one species I've also considered to be fairly common and I'm sure I'm not alone!

I see them everywhere. I open my window in the morning and I see and hear the seagulls swooping low, squabbling over food parcels in the skies above Porthcawl.

I arrive at work in Cardiff and am literally surrounded by gulls. They line the roof tops here at BBC Wales and the student accommodation next door, and there are nests and young chicks everywhere.

In fact, you see more gulls in urban scenarios than at the sea side these days - testament to their ability to adapt and exploit situations to their advantage - moving closer to our rubbish dumps and fast food outlets for easy meals.

A herring gull by Keith O'Brian:

So, how and when does a common species like the herring gull become endangered? Well, the red list criteria consists of a number of different factors which include:

  • Globally threatened.
  • Historical population decline in UK during 1800-1995.
  • Severe (at least 50%) decline in UK breeding population over last 25 years, or longer-term period (the entire period used for assessments since the first BoCC review, starting in 1969).
  • Severe (at least 50%) contraction of UK breeding range over last 25 years, or the longer-term period.
  • Globally threatened, historical population decline during 1800-1995, severe decline (at least 50%) in the UK breeding population over the last 25 years.
There's an interesting read on the RSPB website about how all this list data is collected and crunched to give us the red, amber and green lists.

Even though numbers of herring gulls have declined over the same period the number of nests in inland towns and cities has shot up from 3,000 to 20,000, so it would appear to most of us that these birds are thriving but in actual fact they are not.

If you read the species guide for herring gull on the RSPB website, you'll see that they have "suffered moderate decline over the past 25 years and over half of their UK breeding population is confined to fewer than ten sites".

Something to think about, next time you have your chips stolen from under your nose or you're being mobbed by a vengeful gull during nesting season.

Some species such as the artic skua have literally jumped from green to red in under a decade.

It will be interesting to see what stats the next survey throws up and if herring gulls are making a come back. It's hard to imagine our kids growing up and not knowing what a starling or sparrow looks like, let alone a sea gull? The seaside just wouldn't be the same.

In the meantime, relax and unwind to the gentle sound of a herring gull colony on the BBC Wildlife Finder.

Endangered Gull

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