Monday, 16 February 2015

Feb 16th Great Yarmouth

Gulls on Roof
I'm at the seaside today at a freezing cold Great Yarmouth. I am in search of the essential group of birds of any seaside town, seagulls. I find the term 'seagull' a bit out of date as these birds have now spread inland to our cities, rubbish dumps and ploughed fields, so I prefer calling them gulls. Gulls are one of those group of birds birdwatchers, beginners and professionals alike, have problems identifying with from time to time. There are many species and various plumages to sort through and are often overlooked or ignored for better or easier birds. But today, I have decided to find a few species and plumage differences here at Yarmouth to guide you through them and to shed a new light on these birds.

Mediterranean Gull
Black-headed Gull
Gulls are easy to find and are widespread, but the reason I am at Great Yarmouth in perticular is that there is a special species of gull here. Yarmouth is home to a colony of Mediterranean gulls (Med gull for short), one of a few places where you can see them all year round. Normally, they live along the Mediterranean coast, hence the name. They look similar to another more common species of gull, the black-headed gull. There are differences if you look closely. The Med gull is slightly larger, has a thicker bill which is vivid red as are their legs, the wingtips are white and the head turns really black by summer. Black-headed gulls on the other hand have crimson legs and bills, black wingtips and chocolate brown heads (or hoods) in the summer (not black as their name says). In winter, the hood shrinks to a spot behind the eye (or a black smudge in the case of a Med gull).

You may have noticed that some of these Med gulls have coloured rings with numbers and letters on them. These are to identify and monitor individuals as these Med gulls are possibly the only colony in Norfolk. They are very special indeed.

Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Apart from Med gulls and black-headed gulls, I find two other much larger species around the arcade buildings and lamp posts away from the beach. Herring gulls are the most numerous of these bigger gulls, while lesser black-backed gulls (LBBG's for short) are the ones who put them in place. They both look similar, but easy to sort out which is which. Herring gulls are the ones that we associate the most with the seaside. They have light grey backs, black wingtips with white spots called mirrors, pink legs and a yellow bill with a red spot on it that acts as a target for their chicks to hit as a way to ask for food. LBBG's have slate-grey backs with yellow legs and the same yellow bill with a red spot as herring gulls.

Immature Black-headed Gull
You may also see gulls with brown plumage. These are immature birds tackling their first winter. This is where it gets confusing. Some have less brown patches than others, which tells you the bird's age. The fewer brown patches it has, the older the bird is. It usually takes two to three years until it is an adult. Herring gulls and LBBG's causes the most confusion at this stage as they are both brown all over and look alike. Immature LBBG's are usually the darker of the two, though.

I notice many birds circling the air on the beach, which means someone has food on offer for them. I checked it out and my theory was correct, someone was feeding them. Gulls are opportunists and never turn down a free lunch. It becomes a feeding frenzy with Med gulls and black-headed gulls dive bombing in at once at the food being thrown onto the sand. A lone herring gull stood on the patch of sand where the food was landing and was bossing the other gulls and feral pigeons for the best scraps. Feeding gulls is a bit risky as they can get a bit bold, especially herring gulls. Herring gulls are well known for stealing chips off unexpecting people. They often steal food off other birds in much wilder locations, so it is only natural that they steal food from us too.
Feeding frenzy

Circling above
Herring Gulls worm charming
To finish my gull search, I found one of my favourite gull behaviour on a patch of lawn near the Sea Life Centre. Two herring gulls were stamping on the grass at a rapid fashion. They were worm charming, driving worms up from the ground to eat. It just goes to show how intelligent these birds are and you should give them a better look. They are fascinating creatures. Just keep your chips out of sight.


  1. I really struggle with gulls - we don't usually get many around here as we're about as far away from the coast as you can get. In the last week I've noticed a couple of fields full of them though. I'll have to try and get a photo and maybe you can help me id them.

    1. I hope you can do the same for me with plants, fungi and moths, then we have a deal lol

  2. Great post on gulls - definitely not the easiest when it comes to ID! I love the worm charming too, fantastic behaviour to watch - lovely photos illustrating your post. :)

    1. Thanks Jan. Gulls are great to watch aren't they?

  3. Hi Sean another fantastic and very informative post. I shall remember your top tips for id-ing them next time I take a trip to the coast. Rachel