First British-born little gulls have taken their first flight

Kirsty Nutt

Wednesday 27 July 2016

After making history earlier this month by being the first little gull chicks ever proven to definitely hatch in Britain, all eyes have been on the two youngsters to see if they would survive to take their first flight. Today it was confirmed they have, making their parents Britain's first ever successfully breeding little gulls.

The nest, which is on an RSPB Scotland nature reserve in Aberdeenshire, has been monitored with growing excitement over the last three weeks as the tiny chicks grew larger and feathers replaced their down.

Then on Monday (25 July), the wait was over and one was seen as it took its first flight. This has developed from a story about the first little gulls ever to definitely nest in Scotland [note 1], to the first little gull chicks ever to hatch in Britain [note 2] to now the first to fledge, as these little birds smash record after record.

Richard Humpidge, RSPB Scotland Sites Manager, said: "We are delighted that they have taken to the air for the first time. It was exciting to have the first little gulls ever proven to hatch in Britain on the reserve, but seeing one take flight for the first time is really special. I'm sure their choice to make their home on the tern island has helped and we are thrilled that the terns seem to have had a good year too".

Four years ago, there were just 10 pairs of common terns nesting on the island at Loch of Strathbeg. This year, thanks to the addition of the predator fence and to hundreds of hours of help from volunteers to relevel the island and add 10 tons of shingle, there's more than 130 pairs of terns along with Britain's first ever successfully breeding little gulls [note 3].

Before now the young birds had spent all of their time around the nest in deep vegetation and only the adult birds could be seen. Visitors to RSPB Scotland Loch of Strathbeg should now increasingly see the young birds as they fly around building up strength and improving their technique. The visitor centre has reopened following the completion of renovation work to provide new toilets and a new viewing window with feeders, so visitors can watch the birds in comfort. For more information about how to get to the reserve visit rspb.org.uk/lochofstrathbeg or call 01346 532017.

Editor's notes:

1. This was the first confirmed breeding record for Scotland. There have been two potential breeding records when juvenile birds were seen in 1991 and 1988 both in eastern Scotland. However, the origin of these birds is unconfirmed. From England and Wales, there have been five confirmed breeding attempts, most recently in 2007 (Norfolk). There seem to be no records before 1975 in England.

2. All previously recorded nesting attempts had failed at the egg stage.

3. Little gulls, as their Latin name Hydrocoloeus minutus suggests, are the smallest species of gull. Weighing not much more than a blackbird, they are often thought to more closely resemble terns than larger gulls. They normally breed in northern Scandinavia, the Baltics, Russia and Siberia. Breeding adults have jet black heads with a small dark bill, short red legs and dark smoky grey underwings that are unmistakable when the birds are in flight.

4. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

Tagged with: Topic: Giving Nature a Home Topic: Reserves