Category Archives: gull chick


Today is LGBTQ+ Stem Day. I’m not sure if I am actually someone who works in STEM, because I don’t study and I don’t have anything academic other than a BSc and a Lantra PA1/PA6 (that’s a little joke there for the fellow conservation workers) I saw “STEM supporting” and thought that might be more appropriate for my job?

I might not actually science science, but I do a fair bit of bits of science and I read a lot of sciencey science. I collect data, and write reports, read journal articles, and I assist actual scientists who are working on my reserve.

I also identify as lesbian, although I’m not massively open about it where I live, I don’t think anyone would mind too much. As a LGBTQ+ person, I thought I would write about what I did today, on LGBTSTEM Day.

Last night, myself, two colleagues, a scientist and a friend went to sit in a bog in the middle of the night to listen for nightjars.

We didn’t hear any, but it was still a very pleasant evening. This morning, I drove my colleague, who had stayed at mine after the nightjar expedition, back to her island.

But first we filled up some water butts, because her island doesn’t have any running water, and put them in the truck to drive to the island. Wait! How can you drive to an island? Well, we can because we have a truck, and it’s low tide, and also I have the key to the gate. My colleague protects a breeding colony of Little terns, an incredibly rare seabird in Ireland and the UK. So on the drive we talked a lot about how her colony are doing, issues she’s been having with the public, general chat.

Sea lavender flowering in the salt marsh along the track to the island

On the way back, I stopped off at the Cash & Carry to pick up some household supplies for the reserve, cleaning stuff, bog roll etc.

I had twenty minutes for lunch, then phone and email discussions about whether or not I was going to join some researchers on Saturday, studying a gull colony in the hills about 2 hours drive from here. They wanted to start at 7, so I’d have to leave the house at 5am, mainly so they wouldn’t disturb the birds in the heat of the day, but really so they could get home in time to watch the football. I ended up declining because Saturday is my one day off this week. I’m not going to get up at 430am on my day off, gulls or no gulls.

I then had about 45 minutes to catch up with emails. This includes queries from the public, general work admin, and updating various people about the current state of the bird colony on my reserve. We are coming to the end of the breeding season, and everything should either be fledged or failed, and in my case (as last year) the gull colony is a complete failure.

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A really sad image – many hundreds of dead chicks in a large gull colony

Yesterday we had collected about a dozen dead chicks, and our resident scientist, researching the health and fitness of urban vs rural gulls, and myself drove 2 hours to the government labs to get these autopsied. We had a really good and detailed chat with the Government Veterinary Investigation Officer about what might be causing these die-offs, about other colonies that are also failing, and he brought out stomach contents from a dozen dead chicks we dropped off last week to look at. Is this die-off widespread? Are colonies across the country experiencing the same problems? Is it a Northern Europe issue?

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Equipment round the back of the vet lab

The drive back was even longer due to an accident ahead of us. Once back at the reserve, we went into the colony to check on his study chicks (sadly, all are now deceased or MIA) and change the battery in a gull relay – this is for a separate study, it receives the data from gull GPS tags.

Finally, I had planned on spending a couple of hours rolling bracken, but I was too tired. So I spent half an hour preparing a presentation for a careers talk at the local high school I had been invited to, then myself and our scientist put out a moth trap for the evening. Because moths are cool.

Gull Chick Day 9

Gullward is still going strong! I’ve been weighing him a couple of times a day, and this graph shows just how much he’s growing.

I’m feeding him on cheap tinned fish, and scrambled egg, but he seems oddly picky – making begging calls but not wanting to eat anything. Now he’s up to 225g he is being particularly noisy, but again, despite lots of stinky food, he isn’t interested. When he does eat, he’s much more keen to eat it out of my hand than off the floor.

Gullward a few days ago

Speaking of stinky.. very stinky! he craps a LOT. He’s also going to be big enough to get out of this crate soon; once his juvenile (the non-fluffy) feathers come through and he is waterproof, he might go and live outside, we don’t have any foxes about at the minute and he might be a bit happier than stuck in a box.

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Gullward today

Gull Chick Day 3

Wee gull chick! still peeping and putting on weight. However, it started to lose interest in the white fish fillet, so I tried it some cat food and it gulped it down – I wonder if gull chicks demand a naturally varied diet, or mines just super fussy?

Also lovely to see it play with the pebbles and strands of straw, it’s still adorably clumsy, but with some encouragement is drinking out of a saucer and eating on it’s own. Plus, it’s now up to 90g – double what it was on Saturday.

Gull Chick 1

On Saturday, a member of the public brought us a very small gull chick, still fluffy and tiny, so not more than a day old. It is very difficult to know what to do, they had phoned the RSPCA and not been happy with the response, so left it with me (this is the 4th gull I’ve been given over the past fortnight). All I can do here is call the RSPCA, but as I have plenty of time and energy I thought I’d give hand rearing it a go instead.

I left it in the shoebox it had been brought in, but it was soon desperately trying to escape. I put it into a paper-lined fish crate, with a hot water bottle, covered half the box with a towel and left in a dark room. I found some good resources online that suggested what to feed it, so hand fed tuna. I was also pleased to see it attempt to feed itself from dropped pieces, as well as drink freely from a shallow dish of water.

However, it peeped and peeped and peeped! Resources from a wildlife rehab website I found suggested that they don’t beg for food, but instead just beg whenever they think an adult is nearby. It was very persistent.

I weigh it twice a day, it was 46g when it arrived, by the end of the first day it weighed 53g.

The next day one of our volunteers brought me some freshly caught and filleted whitefish. I snipped it into tiny strips, and the chick happily gobbled all of these up, and even stopped peeping! Definitely preferred it to the tuna.

By teatime of the second day, the chick was up to a whopping 70g!

The reserve I live on and manage was at the forefront of gull research in the 1940s to the 1970s, with a Dr Nikko Tinbergen writing his piece “The Herring Gull’s World” on the reserve, which at the time had the biggest Herring & lesser black-backed gull colony in the British Isles. Although the work has some flaws, and his later pursuits were questionable, it remains one of the great works of biology and animal behaviour research. From this and other research he completed with along with Konrad Lorenz and Karl von Frisch, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1973 “for discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual and social behaviour patterns”