Gulls are one of those groups that we tend not to give a lot of attention to. After all, they appear to be everywhere and tend to be associated with ‘anti-social’ behaviour. But there are many reasons to be interested in gulls; whether it’s the variety of species, their uncanny ability to adapt to our world, or their intricate behaviour. For instance, did you know that the red dot on the lower part of a herring gull’s beak plays an important role in the interaction between parent and chick? By pecking at this spot the chick prompts the adult to regurgitate up the nutritious paste it has brought back to the nest.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about gulls is what they can tell us about the evolution of species. Here at the Basin we have a very good example with the Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull. Sat together they look like very different species, but the taxonomy of this group is very complicated and these two species are, in fact, two end populations of what is referred to as a ring species. A ring species is a series of connected, neighbouring populations which are able to breed with each other, but have at least two distinct end populations where interbreeding cannot occur. As the variations between each population in this Herring Gull/ Lesser Black-backed Gull complex are fairly small there has been some debate about whether this group contains two or six species. However, the Association of European Rarities Committees has now recognised six species in this group.
It’s definitely worth a little thought next time you see one flying by, and with Herring Gulls now being given a red status maybe they’re not quite so common.
Georgina Bowie (Visitor Centre Assistant)