Place your bets on where gulls might turn up in winter

14 Mar 2022 | No. 2022-10

New research, led by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), has used state-of-the-art GPS tags to provide insights into the lives of Herring Gulls breeding in Scotland and northern England during the winter months.

Herring Gulls often hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons during the summer months leading to calls for controls on their numbers, especially in urban areas. However, this species is on the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List because of a steep population decline, with numbers down by 48% since 1986. Researchers hope that information from this study can help people to better understand the Herring Gull’s conservation needs and inform how best to manage conflicts with this species.  

During the study, newly published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, researchers fixed GPS tags to 20 Herring Gulls breeding at four colonies in southwest Scotland (Oronsay, Islay, Pladda and Lady Isle) and one colony in northwest England (Walney). They found that outside the breeding season, Herring Gulls used a range of habitats, including grassland, farmland and urban areas, as would be expected for a species that can survive on a wide variety of different foods from chips to earthworms and freshly caught fish. The data revealed that several of the gulls from Scotland visited the Wee Hurry Chippy in Troon, while an individual tagged on Lady Isle in the Clyde even took a trip to the Ayr Racecourse. However, there was an overall preference for intertidal habitats, where Herring Gulls are likely to feed on mussels and worms.

Although several tagged Herring Gulls stayed close to their breeding colony all year round, most migrated in a south-easterly direction (up to 190 km from their colony) and kept moving to different areas throughout the winter months. Herring Gulls breeding on Oronsay and Islay moved around more during this period than those from the other three breeding colonies, with some birds even visiting Northern Ireland.

Dr Nina O’Hanlon, lead author of the study, said “The gulls tracked from different colonies visited a wide range of habitats and locations, which may help reduce competition for limited resources during the winter months and reduces the risk of all individuals from a single colony being affected by localised anthropogenic pressures, such as coastal development and disturbance. The importance of intertidal habitats during winter also suggests that providing effective protection of these habitats will likely benefit Herring Gulls, as well as many other coastal species, such as waders and wildfowl, that forage and roost in intertidal areas."

To read the whole paper, please visit the journal website.

Contact Details
Paul Stancliffe
 (BTO Media Manager)
Mobile: 07585 440910
Email: press [at] (subject: News%20release%20enquiry)

Mike Toms (Head of Communications)
Mobile 07850 500791
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Notes for editors
BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Belfast (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations.

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