Gulls turn out to have each an own character and personal preference | Flanders Marine Institute

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Gulls turn out to have each an own character and personal preference

Added on 2016-09-13
Thanks to the high-tech sensor network for LifeWatch, it seems that the behavior of gulls cannot be lumped all together. Each individual seems to have its own character and individual preferences. The bird GPS data from June 2013 to August 2016 reveals a lot of peculiar foraging behavior and interesting migration patterns.

A tagged European Herring Gull in the harbour of Ostend, Belgium. Photo: VLIZ - Leontien De Wulf

In the framework of the Flemish contributions to the LifeWatch infrastructure, a high-tech sensor network was installed in June 2013 to better monitor the habitat use and migration patterns of large birds, such as the European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) and the Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus). The birds are equipped with lightweight, solar powered GPS tags: currently 37 European Herring Gulls (Oostende) and 108 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Zeebrugge and Vlissingen) are tagged.

Although the gulls migrate after the summer to more southern resorts, most of them come back to the same breeding grounds the following spring. And there the Lifewatch-project installed antennas, that read in the coordinates of all locations where they have been in the meantime…

On the page Historical bird data on the Lifewatch website you can read some individual stories of some of the gulls, which we all have given a name. You discover some "special cases" that happened to particular gulls during the spring migration (2014-2016), breeding season (2013-2016) or autumn migration (2013-2015).

So we learned from this data that most tagged European herring Gulls stay relatively close (less than one km) of their breeding grounds, but that for example the males Joost and Tjess flew much further to find their food: from Ostend to Koksijde, at sea, and in the fields and meadows of the hinterland of West-Flanders. Although they covered a large foraging area, they returned back every day to their nest (as befits a good husband/father).

The migration routes of the Lesser Black-backed Gulls seems pretty spectacular. Did you know that some of them spend the winter along the African West Coast? In addition, it appears that many of these birds follow the force of habit and travelled to precisely the same location as former years: Dakar (Senegal), Port-Étienne (Mauritania), Dakhla and El-Aaiún (Western Sahara)!

For each time period a general map is available, displaying the GPS data for this period for a certain bird by default, but with the option to select other birds in the map legend. In addition, for each time period several stories are listed, highlighting some interesting behavior of individual birds. Click on the link below to find out:
  • Who forages at sea, and who prefers the beach and fields?
  • Who raids the chips factory in Moeskroen on a daily basis?
  • What are the most popular foraging hotspots?
  • What are they doing when they don’t have a nest?
  • Where are they flying to during winter season and which routes do they take?
  • Who is the most active, and who is a lazy bird?
  • And any, many more!


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