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Birds Britannia: Seabirds

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Stephen Moss Stephen Moss | 15:05 UK time, Monday, 15 November 2010

Ever since I went on holiday to the seaside as a child, I've been aware of seabirds. The haunting cry of the herring gull is one of the first natural sounds any of us hear, and as the theme music for Desert Island Discs shows, it is a quintessentially British soundtrack. Maybe this is because we are an island nation - the sea, and the creatures that live there, are somehow in our blood.

But seabirds are creatures of mystery, too. Of all Britain's birds, they are the most 'out of sight, out of mind' - quite literally, in the case of those that spend the majority of the year out in the open ocean, only coming to land to breed.

When they do come to land, though, they create one of the most extraordinary of all Britain's wildlife spectacles - described by one contributor to Birds Britannia, Roy Dennis, as "our equivalent of the Serengeti". The sight, sound and of course smell of these vast breeding colonies is quite overpowering - and of all my birding memories, watching seabirds on the Farne Islands, the Shetland island of Noss, and the remote archipelago of St Kilda, are amongst the most vivid.

Yet for most of my life - and I suspect yours, too - I do not generally encounter seabirds. Compared to the subjects of our other episodes - Garden Birds, Waterbirds, and Countryside Birds - they are remote and often forgotten. All, that is, apart from one very special and often overlooked group - the gulls. Gulls are the one group of seabirds which have chosen to invade our space, by living and breeding in our city centres - and we don't always like it.

Our changing relationship with gulls will be revealed in this week's episode of Birds Britannia, along with many other aspects of our ancient and turbulent relationship with seabirds as a whole - from the way we exploited them for food, to how we eventually came to protect them. It is a dramatic, exciting, and largely untold chapter in the history of our rise and fall as a seafaring people.

Birds Britannia: Seabirds is on BBC Four Wednesday 17 November, 9pm (and various dates/times during following week). Watch previous episodes on iPlayer.

Stephen Moss is the Series Producer.


  • Comment number 1.

    The crake/rail from last snowy season is appearing in the garden daily once more, (that is assuming it’s the same one – it would be sheer joy if the feelings caused by its presence were possible to bottle. Excuse me. I digress). This is what I’d like to ask. The book I have here on birds of G.B. doesn’t state what this bird eats in the wild, which I’ll look up on a RSPB web search next, but can anyone from the team give advice regarding the feeding of melon to birds? Should this, as an extra, be given to them at all, which I did when it snowed and am now doing again, as this bird is back? Or ought I to stop feeding them this at once? Also of this bird in particular, is there anything other than desiccated coconut, etc. (as mentioned on previous programmes and the BTO site), that this unusual non-garden bird should not be fed?
    Which reminds me, - what extraordinary happiness those Fair Isle people must have felt when they recently held wild waxwings right in the palms of their hands, capturing this spectacle by taking the most fantastic pictures! Thanks for letting the rest of us know about this. Actually, everyone’s photos have been delightful and all should be proud of their achievements, whatever they’ve been. As always, those who are connected with the making of these various series have hit upon the right formula for providing us with great educational entertainment, too. (Am left wondering if I ought to start a “Corr, wow, programme appreciation” message board thread, but cannot blog for anything!).

  • Comment number 2.

    Do resident starlings mix with migrant starlings when roosting or flying in flocks or do they maintain their separation? (Sounds a bit like a question on human beings!)Great show as always!
    Barnstaple Babe


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