Black-headed Gull Story
The Oysterbeds Wildlife Site - Black -headed Gulls.
Black-headed gulls take over large areas of nesting sites and start to nest before the Tern arrive from Africa. Steps were taken before the 2010 breeding season, with bright coloured plastic ribbon, to discourage early nesting of these gulls. This proved to be largely effective and ensured there was plenty of room for both Tern and Gulls on the upper surface of the reserve islands.
The Black-headed gull builds nests of twigs and dried seaweed for which they forage along the coast and bring them back to the island.
Following a lengthy incubation period when one adult must remain on the eggs, the moment finally arrives when the first chicks hatch. These are only one day old. The adult is still incubating the third egg in the clutch and the other parent will be busy feeding the two extra mouths.
The chicks are now 5 days old and one of the adults is regurgitating food for them to feed on.
Another group of 5 day old chicks with one of the adults. You can almost feel the maternal care for the chicks.
At this stage, they still seek the safety of the nest when both adults are away to find food.
At 8 days old, the chicks start to explore the island. They remain together with their siblings and so it is common to find groups of 3 chicks wandering around together.
At 12 days old, the chicks are attracted to the waters edge where there is more protection. Their parents are ever watchful and alert for potential danger.
This leads on to a sight I have never seen before, the chicks actually swimming in the lagoon with their parents alongside for protection.
On the 9th June, the good weather broke and the wind drove the rain down all night. These cold wet conditions can cause fatality among the colony. The following day when I visited the site, I was greeted by a sorry sight.
The chicks on the top of the island were clearly feeling the discomfort and feeling very wet and miserable. In such poor weather the food supply is poor and very few adult gulls were taking off. Another reason why these weather conditions are dangerous.
The chicks I had been following, now 16 days old, survived the night in much better shape under the shelter of the rocks.
Fortunately, the better weather was restored on the 11th June. Not too soon for the colony!
The chicks are growing at a fast rate. Here is an image of a chick, about 19 days old, feeding on food brought in by one of its parents.
By now, the island was full of birds and chicks of various ages. Sometimes a young chick will find its way into the wrong nest and be ejected. This, of course, is a very dangerous time for the chick which could easily be fatally injured.
Left: One of the parents returns to feed its chicks and a juvenile 1st year Gull is also present, perhaps hoping for a tit-bit. Right: The adult gull drives the juvenile off.
It is now 20th June and the first broods are well advanced. This chick is learning how to find food for itself. Wader-like, it is treading in the shallows looking for something edible to move.
Meanwhile, the chicks I was following (now 26 days old) were splashing about at the lagoon edge. The plumage is now very advanced and it will not be long before they fly.
On the 24th June, I saw one of the first of this years chicks to fly. Clumsy at first but they soon got the hang of it.
They did not fly too far away from the nesting site. The Gulls used the mud flats, just south of the lagoon, as a nursery. As high tife approaches, they fly back to the nesting site.
When returning to the lagoon, they have to learn not to invade another gulls territory. This can be difficult for the young chicks are wandering all over the islands. Get things wrong and the consequencies can be severe. Fortunately, this youngster got away without a damaged wing.