St George’s Island gulls spotted in France during ringing project

Thursday 14th October 2010

This summer saw the start of a Gull ringing project on Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s St. George’s Island marine nature reserve off Looe. With over 70 breeding pairs of Great Black-backed Gulls, the reserve supports a significant breeding colony of these magnificent birds.

Peter Kent, Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s East Cornwall Reserves Officer, says,
“The project is a partnership between the Trust and the Cornwall Bird Watching and Preservation Society, and by ringing and monitoring the birds it should help us to learn much more about them. Great Black-backed Gulls have a wing span of around 1.5m, and they truly are one of Britain’s most impressive gulls.”

The Gull ringing project should last for at least five years, and continues work already started by volunteers. For many years Dave Curtis, a local ornithologist and David Conway, the Trust’s Loveny warden, have been recording the number of Great Black-backed Gulls breeding on the Island. It is hoped that this new ringing project will help to gain an even better understanding of their ecology and life histories.

Local ringing co-ordinator, Bruce Taggart, says
‘It is hoped that analysis of the Great Black-backed Gull data will allow us to investigate dispersal patterns, site fidelity, survival rates and longevity, as well as monitor long term population trends.”

The ringing project started in June, and a team of ten volunteers have visited the Island twice to introduce the ringing system. Initially, 49 Great Black-backed Gull chicks were caught and each fitted with a long lasting metal British Trust for Ornithology ring on the left leg, and a white plastic ring engraved with a red identification code on the right leg.

Interesting sightings have already begun, and in August six juveniles were sighted at Looe shortly after fledging. Then, in early September, another two were seen at Downderry. On the 16th September the team received notification of the first foreign report. A young gull was seen on Omaha Beach at Vierville sur Mer in France, 81 days after ringing and a distance of 275 km from St George’s Island.

Three days later another was reported from Parelle Beach in Guernsey. This bird was was ringed on the same day as the first foreign sighting and had travelled a staggering 161 km. Two further Guernsey sightings of the same bird followed at L’Eree Beach on 21st and 23rd September.

Bruce comments,
“Interestingly a Guernsey ringed Great Black-backed Gull was seen at Downderry on 20th September, so maybe these birds crossed mid Channel!”

He continues,
“It’s early days yet but it shows how important colour ringing is in understanding what is happening to these gulls. Did these chicks follow their parents, or head out into the English Channel alone? Only continued ringing, monitoring, reporting and time will tell.”

The team are encouraging sightings of these gulls to be reported to them to help with their findings. If you spot a gull look out for their individual code which starts with the letter L, followed by a colon and then two letters and a single figure, e.g. L:AAI. On sending your sighting information to you will receive a full life history of the bird and receive regular newsletter updates on the progress of the project.


Story by Cornwall Wildlife Trust