Tuesday, 25 June 2019

A brief glimpse into the private lives of Urban Gulls

The hotel website said that I could have a room on their Business Floor for an extra £5 a night, and that here I would have one of their quieter rooms. So given that I had an important meeting the following morning, I decided to book one of these rooms, hoping perhaps for a slightly swankier experience. Instead I just got a slightly longer journey in the hotel lift to the sixth floor, where the rooms were quieter by dint of being further from the bustling streets of Birmingham city centre below.

As with many of these modern business hotels the rooms towards the top of the building can get very warm, as heat from the lower floors rises through the building. As I entered my room I saw that the cleaner had thoughtfully closed the curtains and left the window ajar to try and keep the temperature down in the room on what was a hot and sunny June day.

I’m a fan of natural light and fresh air, so having dumped my bag on the floor the first thing I did was pull open the curtains to let some daylight into the room and to take in the view of Birmingham’s city skyline.  Immediately I picked up on an insistent piping call and looked down onto the flat roof of a neighbouring building, here a gull chick stood covered in a dirty grey coat of downy feathers with its neck stretched forwards calling to its parents for food. As I scanned the surrounding rooftops and airspace I could see half a dozen adult Lesser Black Backed Gulls, either perched on rooftops or wheeling in the sky above them. The chicks calling worked and I watched as an adult dropped in to land next to it to feed it.
iphone wildlife photography, Lesser Black Backed Gull and chick
My ears having picked up on the begging calls of the young gulls now started to tune into the other big city sounds that I hand initially tuned out, the shouts of youths six floors down on the city streets, a police siren and Tanoy announcements from a nearby train station. Below me a city of a million people was going about its business, but up here amongst the roof tops there was a touch of the seaside as an Urban Gull colony went about its business.

For these “seagulls” the city rooftops act in much the same way as a place to nest as offshore islands do, they are safe and secure places free of ground predators and close to a source of food for the adult birds and their young.

As relatively recently as the late 1960’s Lesser Black Backed Gulls were still mainly a coastal species, but already a few pioneers were nesting in cities such as Bristol and it may well be that the birds I was enjoying watching from my high rise hotel room in Birmingham were descendants of these pioneer gulls that had followed the river Severn inland from town to town, eventually making their home in Birmingham with its abundance of safe rooftops to nest upon and a plentiful supply of food in the form of the waste that that we generate in our cities. So important are cities now for Lesser Black Backed Gulls that by 2000 a fifth of the UK population could be found nesting in Urban areas. More info here.

My Business Floor view of Birmingham
Not everyone welcomes the presence of these large gulls in their neighbourhood and a closer inspection of the surrounding rooftops showed spikes and netting presumably put in place to deter gulls and pigeons from taking up residence. But for me it was a pleasure to be able to take a step back from the big city and my preparations for the following day’s work and for a few moments enjoy a ringside view of my very own gull colony going about its timeless business.