It’s what I call silly seabird season here in Scarborough. The time of year when seabird chicks fall off the roof! I am talking about Herring gulls of course. A Kittiwake would never fall off; they are just too clever for that!
The advice from the RSPB is that if the chick is uninjured, leave it where it is and the parents will look after it. There seems to be a bit of a debate about the extent to which parents will feed a chick on the ground; but as far as I can gather, they will give it food occasionally, or drop some down to it. A chick on the ground remains vulnerable to predators, like cats, though. Particularly, if they have not fledged. Chicks easily overheat, which is one reason perhaps, why they tend to fall off.
When they are very young, they look like tiny dinosaurs, which is what they are supposed to have evolved from!
Herring gull adults are very good parents. They share the job of nest building and take it in turn to incubate the eggs. The nests can be fairly substantial affairs, which is why some people want to get rid of them! However, gulls, like all UK birds, are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is illegal to remove their eggs and nests, or disturb them, once they have begun nesting.
The incubation lasts for 27-30 days and the pair sits on the eggs for 95% of the time (Coulson, 2019). Presumably, the other 5% is when they go down to the chip shop!
Herring gulls did not evolve to nest on roofs! It is a fairly recent thing, and the habit seems to have increased markedly since the 1970s (Coulson, 2019). There is lots of advice from the council about what you can do to try and prevent Herring gulls from nesting on your roof, but unfortunately, the seagulls do not read these notices! So some of the measures are not very effective.
Like us, Herring gulls have taken to urban living and there are lots of things left around to tempt them!
I don’t blame them frankly. It’s much easier stealing, or begging for the odd chip or ice cream, than finding fish these days. Even though some do hang around the harbour living the old fashioned, traditional life!
But others just can’t tear themselves away from begging outside the back of the chip shop!
It’s hard work looking after the chicks, and the parent left in charge needs to get some ‘shut eye’ when it can!
Meanwhile the chicks snooze, or wander about, waiting for the next feed to arrive!
Before too long, they will be fledged and looking much different in their lovely first year plumage.
So it’s not easy being a young Herring gull; up to 50% can die in their first year. But if they can get through the pitfalls, they can live to a ripe old age, of 20 years or more, feeding on our scraps and living amongst us. I like them very much, but I know not everybody feels the same. Nevertheless, they are simply taking advantage of the resources we provide for them, as I described in a previous blog.
John C. Coulson. 2019. New Naturalist Library, HarperCollins Publishers
And as a final word, there’s a great series of blogs and photos of herring gulls and chicks here.
I am an entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.