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Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus

Black-headed Gull photos
B-h Gull Photo Index


Abundant winter visitor and localised breeder


 

Status in winter

Black-headed Gull is the most abundant of the gulls found in the region. It is an abundant winter visitor and comprises 70% to 80% of the gulls at most roost sites. At the huge Draycote Water roost in Warwickshire the figure is probably higher still. Accurate counts from Draycote are lacking during recent years, the sheer numbers discouraging observers from attempting a count. During the 1990s and early 2000s, estimates were of the order of 25000, with a highest count of 50000 in 2005, while the count from BTO's Wintering Gull Roost Survey in January 1993 was 38500. Although this was the second-highest count from an inland site, such numbers are well down on estimates from earlier years e.g. 80000 in 1977 and up to 100000 in 1973. Although there has  been a decline since the peak numbers of the early 1970s, it is probable that some more recent counts are  under-estimates to some extent. A subjective comparison of roost-size (area occupied) at Draycote with that at other sites (e.g. Blithfield and Chasewater in Staffordshire), where the number of birds is of the order of 10000, would suggest that numbers at Draycote are substantially in excess of 25000.

Table 1 lists the five-yearly mean maximum counts from selected roosts. It should be noted that the 'mean' counts mask some wide variations in annual numbers (or estimates) and that , unfortunately, data are lacking from several other important sites.

 

5-year Mean

Draycote

Tame Valley

Westwood

Belvide

Blithfield

Chasewater

Bartley

1986 - 1990

27250

inadequate data

4020

7480

inadequate data

8750

inadequate data

1991 - 1995

21480

8400

5300

4540

inadequate data

11375

2830

1996 - 2000

inadequate data

5000

5280

5250

inadequate data

11300

6250

2001 - 2005 30000 6000 4900 (5000)

7200

11100 7750

2006 - 2010

inadequate data

6200

3900

4200

inadequate data

12400

inadequate data

Table 1. Five-yearly means of maximum counts of Black-headed Gulls at selected roost sites, 1986 - 2010.
(Numbers in brackets indicate count available for a single year only)

Changes in working practices at refuse tips are inevitably affecting the numbers of gulls wintering inland, and a decline in numbers of most species is predictable (see Herring Gull for more detailed discussion of this issue). However, counts from other roost sites (away from Draycote) do not as yet indicate a widespread decline in overall numbers of wintering Black-headed Gulls (see Table 1).

Ringing recoveries show that Black-headed Gulls wintering in the region originate from both British and continental colonies. Within the UK, recoveries have shown arrivals from Hampshire, Kent, Essex, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Durham, Cumbria, Northumberland, and Shetland (The New birds of the West Midlands, Harrrison & Harrison 2005). A majority of ringing recoveries in Britain as a whole, of gulls ringed in Europe, is from Fennoscandia, the Baltic states, the Netherlands and Denmark, with others from further east in Russia, Germany, Poland, Belarus and the Czech Republic (BTO's The Migration Atlas, 2002).  The Birds of the West Midlands (Harrison et al. 1982) documents 96 recoveries from ten European countries (including the Baltic States), of which 21 (21.9%) were from Denmark, 19 (19.8%) from Holland, 14 (14.6%) from Finland, and 11 (11.5%) from Germany.

Breeding status

Black-headed Gulls have a long history of breeding in Staffordshire and a more recent presence in Warwickshire and Worcestershire (for details see Harrison et al., 1982, The Birds of the West Midlands, and Harrison & Harrison, 2005, The New Birds of the West Midlands). In Staffordshire, around a dozen pairs continued to breed at Aqualate up to 2005 but thereafter numbers declined and in 2010 no breeding occurred. In 2007 nesting activity was recorded at the nearby Coley Brook Marsh. However, the principal breeding areas are now based on the sand-and-gravel workings in the Tame/Trent Valley system of southern Staffordshire and north Warwickshire. As many as 123 pairs nested at Elford (Staffs) in 1987 but this had declined to 52 pairs by 1990. At the nearby Barton pits 100 young were counted in 1994.Three pairs bred at Kingsbury Water Park (Warks) in 1982 and breeding in this area expanded during the late 1980s to become the main breeding area in the region. The pits in the Dosthill area north of KWP (straddling the Warks/Staffs border) soon became the principal site and by 1998 a total of 150 pairs was estimated. In 2000, 75 nests were counted at KWP and a remarkable 300 nests at Dosthill. In 2005 150 pairs bred at Kingsbury and 231 pulli were ringed. During 2001 an attempt was made to disperse the gulls from Dosthill Lake, where there is now a water-sports facility, but nesting is still well-established at the adjoining pits at Dosthill NR. During 2005, five pairs also bred at Brandon but none in 2007, though in that year a bird was observed on a nest at Ladywalk.

In Worcestershire a pair bred at Wilden in 1970 and breeding was recorded here on a few occasions up to 1981. The species bred in 1985 at Bredons Hardwick. Since 2005, Upton Warren has become the principal breeding site, with 35 pairs rearing 65 young in 2009. In 2010 there were with 20+ pairs at the Moors Pool and 38 pairs at the Flashes, though 30 of the latter nests were abandoned for uncertain reasons (but predators were suspected).

In the 'West Midlands County' nesting has occurred at Ryders Mere since 2008 and at Marsh Lane since 2009, with nine sitting  birds in April and 21 chicks in July during 2010.

Harrison & Harrison (2005) wrote that ringing has shown nestlings from colonies in the region disperse widely across the UK during the first few months after fledging, with recoveries from Dorset, Cornwall and many Welsh counties.

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