Where have the Seaford Kittiwakes gone?

Seagulls it seems are like Marmite; you either love ’em or hate ‘em.

Sure they’re noisy, rip our black bin-bags open spreading rubbish around our streets, even steal our chips; but they’re still a very important member of our local wildlife community, were ‘here first’ and just like us are trying to survive the best they can, so really deserve respect from us all.

 
The majority of seagulls we encounter all around us everyday are Herring Gulls, big white confident birds with grey wings and a striking large yellow bill. But there’s a colony of lesser known gulls just along the coast that are actually quite rare in the UK – the Seaford Kittiwakes.

 
Unlike the too-familiar-for-some Herring Gull, The Kittiwake (see picture) is a gentle looking, medium-sized gull with a much smaller yellow bill and dark eye. When flying the black wing-tips show no white, unlike other gulls, and look as if they have been dipped in ink. They’re named after their unique call, and there is even an old onomatopoeic Sussex name for them, the ’Cackereer’.

The Seaford Kittiwakes have been part of our local area since the 1970s, when sadly, they were forced to move from their original Newhaven site due to cliff erosion. Until this year, Sussex’s Kittiwakes had been doing relatively well in comparison to many other UK sites where populations had been crashing, but no-one knows why in the last twelve months, numbers have dropped from around 800 pairs to around only 400 pairs this year; meaning that kittiwakes are now amber listed as species of conservation concern.

 
Kittiwakes were once hunted for their feathers for use in the Victorian fashion industry, nearly becoming extinct in the 19th Century. They’re now rarely found inland or in seaside towns and spend the winter months out in the Atlantic feeding on small live fish caught from the surface of the sea. Indeed their only contact with land is when breeding on steep cliffs so why not go down to Seaford and admire these rare locals?

You’ll hear their unusual ‘kitti-waaark’ call, and see loads of cute fluffy chicks nesting on ledges so steep they’ll take your breath away. These time-sharing Seafordians only make contact with land once a year when they visit the cliffs to nest making it a brilliant colony to watch. Kittiwakes lay their eggs in May in a nest of compacted with mud, grass and seaweed, built by both sexes. Both parents share the incubation of 1-3 eggs (usually two), which hatch after 25-32 days.

The RSPB’s Aren’t Birds Brilliant! team will be at the eastern end of Seaford Promenade from June 25 to August 10, showing visitors incredible close-up views of the kittiwakes and their chicks from 10am to 5pm daily. For more information visit www.rspb.org.uk/brilliant 

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