November 30th   Leave a comment

Every morning for the last few days I have been driving past a big flock of black-headed gulls feeding in the rough pasture field on the right just as you come into Kingsbarns from Crail. There is a wall between the road and the field and many of the black-headed gulls are hidden behind it. But as cars come past, the hidden gulls close to the wall and so the road fly up in alarm, presumably because of the noise. This then makes a wave of panic dragging up the gulls further away from the road. Even those who can see that the source of the disturbance is a passing car and so nothing to really worry about join the temporary panic. The gulls swirl around a bit but then soon settle down again. Until the next lot of cars repeats the process. You can imagine that if this goes on all day then the gulls will be using more energy than they will be gaining feeding in this disturbed place. And why should the gulls further in the field – both further from the disturbance and with better information that the alarm is false be drawn into this time and energy wasting? I think the answer might be that even though it seems the conditions are cold and difficult for the gulls, it is not really the case. They can afford to “waste” energy because the foraging is actually very good in the field. And from their point of view, with costs covered, they should not take any chances. The gull that cleverly stays on the ground ignoring its flock mates during each false alarm will sooner or later be the single sitting target in the field when it turns out to be a real alarm, when a hungry buzzard or peregrine jinks over the wall. Sometimes it pays to stick with the crowd even when the crowd is doing something foolish…just in case.

Black-headed gull flock – there is safety in numbers, but only if you stick with the crowd

Posted November 30, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

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