Seagulls and the sound of silence?

23 April 2020 | Posted in Fran Southgate , Birds
Seagulls and the sound of silence?
Herring gull ©Nigel Symington

As I sit here contemplating the spring sunshine, it’s lovely to open the windows and let some fresh air in, even if I’m not allowed to let myself out ;) 

Many people in lockdown, including myself are finding it eerily, if not rather pleasantly quiet at the moment in our towns. The lack of people and traffic make it a lot easier to sleep, and to hear other noises which would normally be masked by our high decibel planes, trains, mobile phones and automobiles. I’m particularly enjoying listening out for birdsong, bumblebees and other wildlife noises – I could have sworn I heard a Tawny Owl the other night which would be amazing.

The one thing I didn’t expect to be absent from the town rooftops at this time of year however is the almighty yelling of the seagulls. Usually they are revving up to breeding season in April, and are making a right royal cacophony from the rooftops – mostly at about 5 o' clock in the morning. In the absence of real clifftops, seagulls have adapted extremely well to living on urban roofs as a proxy habitat. Which means that they play out their territorial squabbles and ‘aren’t I a beautiful bird?’ calls at high volume because of all the other noise that they have to compete against.

Herring gulls©Alan Price, Gatehouse StudioSussex Wildlife Trust

© Alan Price

Birds are likely to be one of the biggest benefactors of this new quietude. Birds communicate to each other through song as a means of survival – to help find a mate and to defend their territory from predators. Because of anthropocentric noise pollution, they often change how, or when they sing. The Blackbirds singing all night at Brighton Pavilion are testament to their endurance and adaptability, but the silence will be helping birds hugely.

According to the World Health Organisation, noise pollution affects over 100 million people in Europe – so the effects of noise pollution on wildlife must be monumental. Why then when it gets quiet in urban areas, have seagulls decided to go elsewhere rather than enjoying the silence? Friends of mine report seeing them regularly now inland, mostly feeding and flocking over fields. Perhaps there are less people and dogs to disturb them there now, or perhaps they have relocated to find new, natural food sources as the seaside chip and ice cream abundance has declined? They can also spend more time feeding and flocking on the sea, on real cliffs and at low tide, because of the lack of people and jet skis.

Whatever is causing their change in behaviour, it’s fascinating to watch from afar, and great for a morning lie in! It’s pretty pleasant at the moment to hear the distant call of the seagulls in the background, rather than the deafening shout of them from the roof opposite my window. It’s also a great time for researchers to look more closely at human impacts on wildlife and it will be fascinating to hear more about it when this is all over.

If you have any unusual lockdown wildlife sightings or stories to share, you can send them to us via our Facebook or Twitter pages. 

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