Examples of Black-headed Gulls wintering near the breeding colony

We all know that migrating gulls can travel huge distances. Individuals from my local Black-headed Gull colony in Zoetermeer, The Netherlands for instance have been reported as far west as Ireland (some 800 km) and as far south as Portugal and Spain (up to 1800 km).

Each year, all individuals will have left the breeding colony at the end of July and I won’t see them again until March or so the following year.

Expect for a few individuals.

These gulls don’t seem to have the urge to spend the winter at a far away location. Instead, they stay within a few kilometers of the colony.

Over the last few days I have encountered some of these individuals:

White E5AY

Black-headed Gull with color ring White E5AY, Zoetermeerseplas, 16 November 2012. This individual was ringed in June 2009 in the breeding colony of Zoetermeer (age unknown, after 2nd calendar year).

I came across E5AY last Friday at a roosting location within a kilometer of the colony where it was part of a group of a few hundred gulls.

I’m very familiar with E5AY because it always shows itself well during the breeding season.

White E5AY in the breeding colony, April 2012, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands.

My previous observation of E5AY was 164 days earlier, on June 30 when it was still present in the colony.

White E5PY

Black-headed Gull with color ring White E5PY, Zoetermeerseplas, 16 November 2012. This individual was ringed in June 2010 in the breeding colony of Zoetermeer (age unknown, after 3rd calendar year).

E5PY was part of the same group of gulls that E5AY was part of, and is also an individual that I see often during the breeding season.

White E5PY in the breeding colony, April 2012, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands.

My previous observation of E5PY was 139 days earlier, on June 5 in the colony together with its partner.

White E5RE

Black-headed Gull with color ring White E5RE, Leiden, The Netherlands, 20 November 2012. This individual was ringed in June 2010 in the breeding colony of Zoetermeer (age unknown, after 2nd calendar year).

E5RE conveniently spends her winter in my local town of Leiden (some 13 km from the colony), thereby making her one of the very few colony gulls that I get to see both in breeding- and non-breeding plumage.

I encountered her again for the first time yesterday, November 20. This was pretty much on schedule: in previous years I first saw her on the 18th (2010) and the 12th (2011) respectively.

E5RE in breeding plumage, Zoetermeer, April 2011.

My previous observation of E5RE was 152 days earlier, on June 21 in the colony.

Why are they here?

To me, these gulls are as fascinating as those that travel hundreds of miles. What makes them decide to stay here? Are they tougher than migrating birds and capable of enduring colder climates or are they less adventurous and feel more comfortable closer at home?

No matter how far from the colony they spend the winter though, the majority manage to find each other again in the month of March the following year to pair up for yet another breeding season.

I’m already looking forward to seeing them in the colony again next year.

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