The sight and sound of Herring gulls are an integral part of the local community here and as I wrote last year, you either love them or you loathe them. Personally I rather like them, but having just endured this year’s breeding season and had them as very close boarders, I may have gone off them slightly! The Edwardian building we occupy the centre part of played host to two nesting pairs this year, one pair on either side of us, each settling into the top of a tall terracotta chimney pot. I can see the appeal for them, quiet neighbourhood, excellent panoramic penthouse views, just a minute’s flap from the sea, a wide variety of eating opportunities close by. .. Unfortunately from a landlady’s viewpoint, they were not the ideal ‘guests’ and the noise levels were, frankly, unsociable. Stuck in the middle of the two nests sites we were subjected to frequent sessions of raucous territorial shrieking in stereo. Requests to pipe down a bit fell on deaf ears.
Once the offspring hatched the sessions became even more frequent, then reached their peak once the youngsters fledged. That was when they moved down onto our flat roof, which is just below my bedroom window, and really made their presence heard.
Herring gulls herald the crack of dawn very loudly, which at the time was around 4.30am, so that’s when I woke up too. They are much louder than cockerels and even less tuneful.
The proximity of the gulls definitely disturbed the usual peace of the neighbourhood, but on the positive side it also literally gave me a window into part of their daily lives. I soon realised that the bouts of loud calling are not a random act, the birds use their powerful voices to call to their partners and offspring as well as to declare their possession of a territory and to warn off intruders. As the youngsters grow in confidence and flying ability improves they leave their ‘home’ area to explore, but parents still return there with food and summon them back to eat it.
The adults had a ritual; each time they arrived back with food they began calling loudly, starting off with their heads lowered, then raising them, cranking up the volume until they reached a crescendo with head thrown back and beak opened fully.
They are vigilant and attentive parents and deal patiently with harassment by their young ones that persistently beg for food. I’m not sure they are very well versed in nutrition though; ever the opportunists I saw them bring forth a variety of foodstuffs, including french fries, raw chicken, bits of crab and a still-wriggling starfish.
The gulls took time out in the afternoons to rest together, the pair work together to raise their young and appear to be well bonded. Although they would appear to be relaxed, they were ever-vigilant and well aware of the presence of other birds in their airspace, taking it in turns to issue warnings.
A postcard to our summer visitors: “Thank you for an interesting and educational few weeks, but I’m glad you’re no longer here. Perhaps you might enjoy trying a new location next year? I understand the chips are rather good in Llandudno, or how about Rhyl …..?”