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West Dunbartonshire may not have much of a shoreline that be cosnidered "sea". What it has is a short stretch of the Firth of Clyde right where that becomes the River Clyde. But we do still manage to have a good variety of seabirds. Many birds, such as gulls, may be thought of as seabirds, but they are not so semantically precise and so many will set up home right in our town centres or feed in farm fields. 

If someone exclaims "what is a seagull doing inland?", you can respond with "a gull's a gull for a'that". We tend to over label many of them as "seabulls" when in fact many are quite happy almost anywhere. It is more proper to simply call them gulls.

And it is this adaptability that leads to trouble between us and them. 

While it is qutie entertaining to feed gulls and similar birds along our quayside such as the River Leven in Dumbarton, the bolder they become, the more problematic. Not only do they foul our buildings (wonder where that word comes from?), they can become quite vicious in the way they dive down on us both to snatch food (even if not intended as a hand-out) or to defend their young when nesting.

So often an immature, but an almost fully grown gull finds itself a little battered on the ground and wanders around eliciting sympathy and sometimes disgust from passers by. It would be so much better if they lived and bred in natural environments such as Dumbarton Rock. Quite what to do about them can be a dilemma. They don't always heal from their falls and may not survive. Nature has a way of dealing with them that may upset us, but rescuing them is rarely a satisfactory answer.

This immature, but almost fully grown gull, most likely a lesser black-backed gull has been rescued. It has a damaged wing and now dependent on human care doesn't have a natural nor bright future.

Naturally, "seabirds" include quite a few other bird species too such as comorants (which we describe in their own section) and many waders. Even, as is common locally, swans.


Where to see them : Along our coasts and sometimes inland.

This is the largest of the gulls found here and as its name suggests it has a striking black back as well as a heavy yellow bill and flesh-pink legs.  In flight feathers the primary feathers display white spots known as ‘mirrors’. Immature gulls can look rather different, but can be identified by comparing them to the adults. As they vary in the way they look according to age, sex and season, it is best to refer to the RSPB link given below to be sure. Great black-backed gulls have much in common with their smaller counterparts described below. The greater black-back gull has pink legs.

Lesser black-backed gull : Larus fuscus
Where to see them : Along our coasts and sometimes inland.

Lesser black-backed gulls can be so easily confused with their larger counterparts, the much great black-backed gull described above. Their backs though are more a slate-grey colour. Another useful way for differentiation is to look at their legs which is bright yellow, most so in the breeding season.

Most lesser black-backed gulls migrate south in winter and do not reappear until March and April.

One of a squabble of lesser black backed gulls in central Dumbarton looking for discarded fast food.

Two lesser black backed gulls paddling in the Leven.

And if the Leven doesn't provide a tasty morsel, then those overflowing wheelie bins in Alexandria are a good bet. Great vantage point up here on the lamp post. Just grumpily squawking away up here until those humans pass by first.

This is quite a common sight in mid summer. A lesser blackback gull chick wanders the streets, or in this case, Lomond Industrial Estate, much distressed by what it finds at ground level. Above, two gulls, presumably its parents, cry a raucouos reprimand to it and warning to anyone and everyone below. These gulls tend to nest on flat roofs and box gutters and industrial buildings. Many a chick makes the mistake of believing it is time fledge and plummets earthwards. They almost all survive although some get injured in the fall while others may be eaten by predators.

A chick wanders around the carpark of some Dumbarton central flats. An almost perfect camouflage. Perhaps too perfect as it tended to simply lie low when a car came near.

HERRING GULL : Larus argentatus

Where to see them : Our coasts and sometimes inland.

Herring gulls can be easily confused with lesser black-backed gulls but have much paler grey backs, with black wing tips and white spots (‘mirrors’).  Their head and bill too are similar. A good way to differentiate them is their flesh pink legs. Many herring gulls that we see here in winter may have come from Scandinavia. Herring gulls are one of the commonest gulls breeding in towns and cities and often found in Dumbarton High Street.

An adult herring gull off the Clyde shore...

....and a juvenile nearby.

COMMON GULL or MEW : Larus canus

Where to see them : Our coast and many waterways.

Contrary to their name, the Common Gulls is the least common gull found  in in Scotland.  It is much smaller than the others mentioned above, but can be readily identified. Its bill is much finer and lack the red spot of herring gulls. The legs are pale green-yellow. Common gulls sometimes nest on buildings. Large numbers of common gulls migrate into Scotland from Scandinavia in winter. 

A common gull photographed on the Forth and Clyde Canal in April near Clydebank Shopping Centre.

BLACK-HEADED GULL : Chroicocephalus ridibundus

Where to see them : On out coast or waterways, but also well inland.

This small gull is very easily identified by its dark brown, almost black. It is unique to this species in Scotland.  Both its bill and its legs are red.  Black-headed gulls lose their black heads in winter, except for a small dark mark behind the eye. immature birds have a mix of grey and brown feathers. 

As we have noted before, some gulls simply don't deserve to be labelled "Seagulls". This is a good example of a gull which is simply unconcerned about whether it is at the seaside or not.

Black headed gulls line up on the railing above the Leven at Dumbarton. Being winter, they have lost their black hoods except for spots behind the eyes, but can be identified through their red bills and legs.

Black-headed gulls on the canal at Old Kilpatrick in January.

It is summer and these gulls have their hoods on. Not quite black, but a dark brown.

(Photos taken near Kilsyth).

NATURE SCOT website : https://www.nature.scot/doc/guidance-gull-identification-and-annual-cycle-guide#:~:text=Common%20gulls%20are%20probably%20the%20least%20common%20gull,to%20lack%20the%20red%20spot%20of%20herring%20gulls.

RSPB : https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/great-black-backed-gull/

WEST DUNBARTONSHIRE COUNCIL : Gull advice : https://www.west-dunbarton.gov.uk/public-health-protection/gull-advice/#:~:text=Lesser%20Black%20Backed%20and%20Herring%20Gulls%20are%20common,within%20the%20area%20rather%20than%20on%20coastal%20cliffs.

WILDLIFE TRUSTS : https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/how-identify/identify-gulls

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