Bird of All Trades: Why Herring Gulls are Great!

Posted on Posted in Birds, Nature, Photo News, Update
A family of Herring Gulls on a St Ives rooftop.

It’s that time of year again where faint whistling sounds have started calling and grey, spotty fluff-balls  are appearing on cliffs by the sea, rooftops by the sea, and rooftops pretty far away from the sea. I can hear it now as I type this paragraph. It is the sound of a bird species that has become increasingly controversial, that many despise, which I have come to adore.

There are few animals that are more entertaining and exciting to observe than Herring Gulls. If you don’t believe me take a trip down to your local gull hotspot and just watch them for a while. Yes they fight, yes they steal, yes they swoop and scare – just some of the behaviours classed as “a nuisance” – but behind all this is brilliant evolution, awesome adaptation and some of the strongest protective and  parental instincts you will ever witness. And let’s face it, when it’s someone else’s food being taken, it really is hilarious.

Herring gulls are made to survive and one of the best ways they do this is by being the Jack of All Trades, but Masters of none of the bird world. Take Swans for example – their entire design from their feet to their beak revolves around swimming, floating and reaching down into the depths of lakes and rivers to get the weed that other waterfowl cannot get to. Now take the peregrine falcon, a much smaller bird with an entirely different build, shape and skill set. Instead of a beak that grips slippery sea weed theirs is sharp and hooked and able to tear through flesh. Rather than a buoyant bulk it is a slender bullet allowing it to reach speeds of up to 20km an hour. Sepereate claws and sharp talons help it catch it’s prey, it has no use for webbed feet in the air.

These birds have their “niche” or specialty and it’s how they survive.

One of many gulls in St Ives that have been given numbered leg rings to study their individual behaviour.

The awesome thing about Herring gulls is that they are specialists at being generalists. In fact if you could somehow make  peregrine-swan hybrid, I think a Herring gull is pretty close to what you would create. Coastal bird at heart, they have many features that allow them to survive near water including webbed feet for swimming and a beak that can catch fish and sea weed. But these features aren’t so prominent that they restrict the gulls from other habitats and food sources. Their beak is sharper than a swans, slightly hooked a bit like a peregrine’s, and so they are able to catch or scavenge for meatier meals too. Their body is large enough to float, but light and nimble enough to fly fast, make tight turns and steal food from unlucky birds and unaware people.

As awesome as specialist birds and animals are, it’s the “commoners” like Herring gulls that I have come to view as complete geniuses for their ability to take any situation and find a way to utilize one of their many abilities.

Herring Gull (19 of 22)
A car park puddle is quickly identified as an ideal area for feeding, drinking and washing.

I could write a book on why I adore these birds so much, heck, I’ve already written a dissertation on them. This is what I will leave you for now!




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