Chance to help locate nests

 

Red-billed gulls in Otago are bucking the national trend with a gradual increase in numbers but questions remain about where they gather to breed and nest.

Finding these sites is the aim of a participatory science project run by the Royal Albatross Centre.

With Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment "Curious Minds" funding, project lead Sally Carson and project scientist Dr Chris Lalas are hoping the public can help uncover other nesting sites.

Chris Lalas (left) and Sally Carson are hoping their citizen science project will help uncover...
Chris Lalas (left) and Sally Carson are hoping their citizen science project will help uncover red-billed gull breeding sites. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON
Ms Carson said they knew locations for big colonies but did not know where small colonies were.

The biggest and most obvious colony was at Taiaroa Head, and the second-largest colony was at the Otago Yacht Club marina.

"We want to involve the public and schools in helping us find out more about the species."

Some schools were already encountering red-billed gulls in their outdoor areas.

"So we are involving these students in observing these birds, getting to know them better, and thinking about why are they in their school yards and not out where they would normally be feeding," Ms Carson said.

A red-billed gull protects a chick at the Taiaroa Head breeding site. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON
A red-billed gull protects a chick at the Taiaroa Head breeding site. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON
Dr Lalas said red-billed gulls, (Tarapunga) were the smallest of the gulls in New Zealand.

In Otago the numbers were stable or increasing slowly, which was quite different from the rest of the country where numbers were decreasing.

Red-billed gulls nested on the coast and during November and December chicks were mostly hatched and fledging.

It was a good time of year to get an estimate of total population by going to breeding colonies to count them.

Gulls had been observed nesting on buildings in Oamaru, and the same behaviour could be happening in Dunedin.

"We are very sure it is happening, it is just that we don’t know about it, so we would really appreciate any information on that."

A red-billed gull looks over two chicks at the Taiaroa Head breeding site. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON
A red-billed gull looks over two chicks at the Taiaroa Head breeding site. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON
Taiaroa Head was the best place to see red-billed gulls because they had chosen to nest very close to people and were not disturbed by them, Dr Lalas said.

"Go to colonies away from people and you will be dive-bombed and probably pooped on."

To take part in the project all the public need to do is look for nests of red-billed gulls, take a photo and record the location.

The next step is to visit the website iNaturalist.org, search for Red-billed Gull Nests in Otago and upload the photo and location information.

People can also send an email to education@albatross.org.nz to share information.

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