Sea Birds –John Kirkman – 7th December 2015

John gave us a stim­u­lat­ing talk on this import­ant group of birds which can be seen around our cliffs, estu­ar­ies„ mud­flats and sea shores. Some such as Storm-petrels, Shearwaters and Gannets spend much of their lives at sea , vis­it­ing land just to breed, often in huge, noisy colon­ies. Others par­tic­u­larly the Gulls are more tied to the coasts but being very adapt­able have also ven­tured inland.

Bempton Cliffs.
Bempton Cliffs.

Bempton Cliffs in North Yorkshire has one of the most import­ant and best known sea bird colon­ies. In the spring, the cliffs are packed with thou­sands of Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Fulmars and Shags. In summer the colony is seeth­ing with activ­ity and noise as the adult birds come and go feed­ing their chicks. Nesting spots are at a premium and the stronger of the spe­cies ensure their nests are on ledges on ver­tical cliffs so their fledglings can propel them­selves off into the sea below. Others, less for­tu­nate may fall to the rocks below and are fair game for the many pred­at­ors , par­tic­u­larly rats and Herring Gulls, that patrol these colon­ies look­ing for the weak and injured.

oyster catcher
Eurasion Oyster Catcher.

Sea birds live long lives, typ­ic­ally Oyster Catchers 45 years, Gulls 20/30 years, Waders 40 years Puffins and Gannets 30 years. Nature com­pensates by ensur­ing they have few sur­viv­ing young. Typically Gannets have only 2 sur­viv­ing young over 30 breed­ing sea­sons. In con­trast blue tits live for only one or two years, but have large broods but with few sur­viv­ors. Nature has its way in keep­ing the bal­ance. Over the years Fulmars have increased in num­bers whereas Puffins and others have decreased to levels which are caus­ing alarm. There are many reas­ons for the decline. These include, sea warm­ing, pol­lu­tion, dis­carded fish­ing nets and a short­age of staple foods such as sand eels, a par­tic­u­lar favour­ite of Puffins. Denmark has not helped the cause by trawl­ing sand eels on an indus­trial scale grind­ing them down for fuel and animal feeds full of vit­am­ins.

Gulls are a common sight at our sea sides and inland, typ­ic­ally on ploughed fields and refuse tips. Gulls are sur­viv­ors. They are strong fliers, swim and walk with equal ease and most import­ant can easily adapt and are resource­ful. Of all the sea birds the Gulls have man­aged to live along side human beings, often to the annoy­ance of the latter The Gull family includes the Herring Gull a large, vicious, noisy and pred­at­ory bird , Greater and Lesser Black Backed Gulls and Black Headed Gulls all very common around our coasts.

Arctic Tern
Arctic Tern.

No blog on sea birds would be com­plete without men­tion of Arctic and Common Terns and their con­sid­er­able feats to follow the sun. Common Terns winter along the coasts of Africa whilst the Arctic Tern flies all the way from the far north to the far south to winter in the Southern ocean enjoy­ing more summer than any other bird.


A most inter­est­ing talk with ques­tions flow­ing thick and fast from the mem­bers.