Glorious gulls, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust by Alice Ashcroft
You could be forgiven for thinking that gulls are everywhere. In fact, most gull species are in decline and it is only their versatility that enables them to survive. Around twenty species can be seen in our counties, and winter is the best time of year to spot them.
These birds have a dark chocolate-brown head in summer and a white head with dark smudges during winter. The saltmarshes of the Solent were once home to some of the largest colonies in Britain. Sea level rise has contributed to a significant decrease in their numbers and even the total loss of some colonies. Many now nest inland – we have a number of black-headed gulls nesting at Blashford Lakes nature reserve.
Adult Mediterranean gulls look like a smarter version of the black-headed gull, with a black hood in summer and pale, silvery-grey upper-wings with no black wing-tips. They are somewhat stockier and have powerful red bills, which hint at their somewhat more aggressive approach to life. Beaulieu Estuary in Hampshire was the first place in the UK where this gull was found nesting, and Hampshire still has the country’s largest colony, located in Langstone Harbour.
Herring gulls are the familiar, large gulls of seaside towns. They used to nest on cliff tops, but now increasingly use rooftops, especially those on warehouses and office blocks near the coast. Nesting closer to us gives the impression that they are increasing in numbers, but the national breeding population of herring gulls has suffered a steep, long-term decline. In fact, the herring gull is red-listed as a priority species for conservation.
Contrary to their name, common gulls are not the most common gull locally. They prefer to live inland, breeding by lakes and feeding mainly on damp pastures where they seek out worms. Langstone Harbour hosts an especially large gathering in winter, and they will often stop to bathe in the lake at Farlington Marshes before roosting.
Great black-backed gull
Great black-backed gulls are the largest of our gulls and a force to be reckoned with. They steal food from smaller gulls, pick up discarded fish and kill a variety of prey. Typically, the young are seen in small groups and the adults as pairs. They travel inland in very small numbers with most remaining on the coast all year round. In recent years a small number have begun nesting in our local area.