Saturday, 29 September 2012 13:34
In last week's Cast YOUR Vote we asked students to send us questions that they would like us to investigate. The question we chose to answer was, “What animals have you been seeing lately?” That is a great question and we figure that other students would be interested in this too. Our answer will focus on gulls, because we have been seeing a lot of them. In any given day, we might see over 100 gulls! Also, we have a special opportunity to help with a gull research project.
The research project
We are helping Dr. Julie Ellis find banded Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls. Dr. Ellis and her team have put color-coded bands on the legs and wings of specific gulls. Every day when we paddle our kayaks, we are keeping an eye out for these gulls. Studying gulls that have been banded helps Dr. Ellis and her colleagues learn where gulls go in the winter, how far young gulls travel during their first few years, their survival rate and their behaviors. If we find a banded gull, our job is to record the location of the gull, their band number, their behavior and take a digital photo of it.
We found out about Dr. Ellis's study through a great nonprofit organization called Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. They help to pair adventurers (like us) with scientists (like Dr. Ellis). We are happy to help with this project, because our route is where Dr. Ellis is looking for gull observations. The only tools we needed are a pair of binoculars, a GPS and a camera. It doesn't take much extra time – when we see any gulls, we spend a few minutes identifying them and looking closely at their ankles with the binoculars.
Did you know that gulls were hunted for their eggs and feathers in the 1800s? Since then, gulls have been protected from hunting. Their numbers increased due to this protection and increased availability of garbage and fisheries discards. However, over the past ten years, some gull populations have been declining. This might be due to landfills being closed or managed to reduce gull numbers.
Gulls are quite common in urban areas because they can easily find food and places to live there. They are often considered to be nuisances. Gulls are actually top predators in coastal marine food webs. They can have a big effect on marine invertebrate populations. They contribute nutrients to the soils and plants in areas where they nest. They are also competitors and predators of other seabird species.
You can help!
Do these gulls live in your area? You can find out by checking their range maps here. If so, you can help Dr. Ellis too! Here are the instructions. I also hope that you will take the time to learn more about Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls in the Wilderness Library.
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