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Great black backed gull on the beach

The summer holidays are well and truly underway and despite the famous unpredictable British weather many of us will have taken a trip to the beach or are planning one for the next few weeks. A splash in the sea, a dig in the sand and perhaps even an ice cream are all long overdue treats.

No trip to the beach however would be complete without seeing or perhaps even complaining about the seagulls! You might have spotted them wheeling around in the sky above you calling to one another or maybe one got a little bit too close to your chips?

Seagull is an interesting term, because there is actually no such thing as a seagull! It’s just a term used to collectively describe gull species and comes from our association of seeing gulls out to sea hunting for fish or following fishing boats.  Many gulls however feel just at home feeding on worms in fields or scavenging at a rubbish tip.

There is in fact no species of gull called a seagull! With over 50 different gulls world-wide, it is not surprising that we lump them all together though, as they can be tricky to tell apart.

In the UK we have 6 relatively common species, and if you want to learn to identify them I would start with these first. You can then move on to the less common species you may also get to see in UK such as the glaucous gull. I warn you though, identifying gulls can be addictive; you may find yourself suddenly on a road trip to Lands End as someone has spotted a rarely seen bird and you just have to see for yourself!

To get you started on your gull ID journey we made a useful video on how to identify some of these birds:

You may be able to tell that I’m a gull fan! They are full of character and are incredibly resourceful and adaptive. Unfortunately they do have a bad reputation and are sadly thought of as pests by many people. They are often very noisy (especially when they are nesting), they can make a mess and sometimes even steal your food; so I can understand why some people do not like them. There is no denying that a nesting gull will make a lot of noise, especially if they believe their young are in danger, but this is one of things I like about gulls, they are fantastic parents! If you get too close they will fly towards you, this is a warning that they feel threatened. Give them some space to look after their young and they will soon quiet down.

They sometimes also steal your food, this behaviour however has been learned from us! Many people will enjoy a picnic and throw a scrap for the gulls. Humans sadly will also leave a lot of litter about, so a left-over kebab on the street provides the perfect snack. The gulls then associate us and our food as their food. A chip on the floor, a chip in your hand…its all the same to them. If anything, these behaviours show just how intelligent these birds are and highlights their resourcefulness in taking advantage of our failings!

Interestingly gulls are also not as common as you think, the herring gull for example is now on the red list of birds under threat in the UK, due to recent population crashes. Ironically this is our iconic seaside gull and the chip thief! In fact our other five more common species are also all amber listed; so sadly our gulls are not doing that well.

So next time you see a gull, have a think about the individual and the species rather than it being a ‘seagull’. Lets give them some love and appreciation, a little bit of space and stop feeding them so we can learn to live in harmony with these fantastic birds.

Ranger Natalie