The first Winter Gull Survey in nearly twenty years is set to measure the impact that avian influenza has had on gull populations.
The count, run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), will be held during the winters of 2023/24 and 2024/25. It will collect data on the populations of six species of gull in the UK, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.
Information will be gathered on the number and distribution of the black-headed gull, common gull, Mediterranean gull, lesser black-backed gull, herring gull, and great black-backed gull. The breeding populations of all six species are on either the amber or red list of Birds of Conservation Concern.
There has been a large number of seabird mortalities since the current avian flu outbreak reached the UK in October 2021. Earlier this year, BTO reported that at least 10,000 black-headed gulls were suspected to have died of the virus between March and June 2023.
The Winter Gull Survey has taken place approximately every ten years since the winter of 1952/53, with the last one taking place from 2003/04-2005/06.
BTO is calling for volunteer birdwatchers who are confident in their ability to identify gull species and count large numbers of birds accurately to take part in the new count.
Emma Caulfield, the survey organiser for Winter Gull Survey, said “Information collected in this winter’s survey will start to fill the gaps in our knowledge which have developed since the last survey 20 years ago.
“This is particularly important given that gulls have been impacted by the ongoing outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza, and we are still seeking to understand the full implications of this.”
Dawn Balmer, BTO head of surveys, added: “Many of our gull species are experiencing significant declines in their breeding populations, hence their conservation status, and we urgently need to improve our understanding of where and in what numbers they winter.”
Information on how to volunteer is available on the BTO website.
Image © Shutterstock