black headed gull

Our Overseas Visitor

The black headed gulls are a common sight on our beaches and coastline. The black headed gull is actually only ‘black headed’ during the summer and even then, up close it is more brown than black. The rest of the year they do not actually have a black head.

This bird can also be spotted by its characteristic screechy tones very different to the melodic sound of herring gulls. They often gather in large groups where there is plenty of available food.

The population of the black headed gull is very healthy and there are in fact approximately 140,000 pairs of black headed gulls in the UK, with 2.2 million over wintering here every year. Throughout Europe there are, according to the RSPB, 130,000 pairs, all of which tend to travel around Europe depending on where the best feeding grounds are.

Which leads us to the gull myself and Mike Caiden found wandering around on Cardiff Bay. The gull looked like a young male, and was very noisy, we noticed it had been ringed so decided to bribe it with food, to come close to us so we could take a look. There was a number engraved on the ring and I quickly snapped a photo of the gull and sent it to Mike to research where the gull had originally been ringed.

Below is the photo of our overseas visitor, you can see the ring number clearly on his leg.

Black headed gull

Months passed and we had heard nothing until a couple of months ago. I thought the gull had been ringed here in the UK and that nothing interesting would have been discovered – how wrong I was!

The black headed gull had been originally ringed on 16th March 2017, it was an adult male and had been ringed in none other than Vorpommern-Greifswald which is a district in the east of Mecklenburg Vorpommern in Germany. He was then found by us 534 days later 1190km west from his original place of ringing.

Below is the map of how far the gull had traveled.

Map of how far the gull traveled

But what was he doing during that time?

The information we were given by the original group who ringed him, called Hiddensee, also supplied us with previous sightings of this well-traveled gull.  The information shows that he traveled from Germany to Cardiff and (as far as we know) stayed in Cardiff till at least the 30th April 2018 when he showed up in the same place, he was ringed. He then traveled back to Cardiff where he was found by myself and Mike on the 1st November 2018 and now who knows! He must enjoy the welsh air!

Why do gulls fly so far?

Most gull species are actually migratory. They move to warmer habitats during the coldest months and can migrate to areas where they think has the best resources. This may be innately learned or learned from their parents before them. Some gulls travel massive distances such as the Franklins gull which migrates from Canada to South America.

So next time you see a gull remember, it almost definitely is not the same gull you saw yesterday and more than likely is more traveled than you are!

Written by Ashley Dale