Introduction to gulls & terns

Mouse over links for pictures; click for detail page.

The very common black-headed gull breeds on estuary saltmarshes wherever there is a space. In winter their numbers are swelled by visitors from Europe. Herring gull is another common large gull, a familiar sight on rubbish tips in winter. They nest all around the UK coast in colonies on islands or cliffs and even on flat roofs. They defend their nests vigorously, frequently regurgitating food at anyone disturbing them.

Great black-backed gull can be seen all year round but with a bias towards winter. It is a large robust bird which will feed on anything it can swallow, including other sea birds – even puffins! Its close cousin the lesser black-backed gull can also be seen year round but more often visits inland fields and rubbish tips.

Mediterranean gull colonised Essex recently. Having spread from southern Europe it now nests in small but increasing numbers on coastal marshes. Common gull is misnamed in that it is relatively uncommon, almost disappearing in the summer. In winter it is more likely to be found feeding on farmland than on the coast.

Little gull nests in northern Europe on shallow lakes and vegetated marshes and spends the winter at sea. It visits the Essex coast and reservoirs regularly mainly in the spring and autumn.

Terns are elegant, long-winged birds of sea and coast. Common terns nest in coastal colonies and also on artificial islands on reservoirs. They migrate in autumn to the west coast of Africa and return in march. Their cousin the arctic tern breeds in the north and is an uncommon visitor to inland reservoirs during migration.

Little tern is an endangered species due to disturbance on its favoured nesting site, exposed shingle beaches. Breeding is attempted each year at a number of Essex sites, with mixed success. They arrive to breed in April to May and leave again July to October.

Sandwich terns nest colonially on islands and are usually seen on the Essex coast from July congregating on sand/shingle spits. They migrate south in August to October and return in March. Black terns are freshwater marsh birds breeding in Europe on well vegetated lakes and marshes. They visit the Essex coast and inland reservoirs on migration, sometimes in large numbers.

© Beata May