7th Day: Black-headed Gull

The black-headed gull could at first sight seem like the most mundane species of this wild 12. It’s a common bird, common to the point of ubiquity, one that in the winter months especially graces almost every playing field and torn-open rubbish bag in Britain.

Look again. Here is an eye-catchingly sleek bird, a streamlined vision in white and silver. Its beak is a subtly beautiful orange-red, and in summer the ‘black’ hood is in fact a rich chocolate brown. Soon after the breeding season the hood seemingly retracts, reducing to a spot on either side of the head. It’s as though the gull’s summer colours have not gone, but are merely tucked away awaiting redeployment at the appointed time.

Black-headed Gull by Whiteknights Lake, December 2014

Black-headed Gull by Whiteknights Lake, December 2014

Now see hundreds of black-headed gulls massing together over a gravel island dotted with nests. A raucous, riotous performance that is the closest Berkshire gets to a seabird colony. What black-headed gulls lack in rarity value they make up for in spectacle and grace, a truly overlooked everyday wildlife wonder.

As part of my ringing training I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a black-headed gull colour ringing project. Stepping into the melee of the colony for a carefully limited period of time, we place a white plastic ring on one leg of each chick and a standard metal BTO ring on the other. The easy-to-read number combinations allow the birds’ movements to be tracked without the need for recapture, and so far the project has seen Berkshire-hatched gulls reported from as far afield as the Iberian Peninsula.

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One late afternoon a few weeks ago, I heard a black-headed gull calling, far above my head. Two were flying with purpose towards an unknown roost site. I stretched my neck back as far as I could and watched them dwindle into the dusk. When at last I looked back down, another gull was standing on the asphalt mere feet from me, head cocked, watching. A familiar bird that I have held in my hands and yet one that at the same time exists on another plane – sweeping into the skies with such ease that it can cross entire countries in a few days.

2 thoughts on “7th Day: Black-headed Gull

  1. Pingback: 30 Days Wild: Days 1, 2 & 3. | Chris Foster

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