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Rooftop conservation

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Meet the seagulls raising a family on the 4th floor

The roof spaces and balconies of Cardiff University Students’ Union have been a breeding ground for gulls for many years. As more wildlife are attracted to urban environments, many business and residential homes in Cardiff have become regular nesting spots for gulls as they hatch their young before starting their long winter journeys.

For the last three years, we’ve been supporting the work of seagull expert Peter Rock, who researches these birds across Bristol, Bath, Cardiff and Gloucester. Peter has been colour-ringing nestlings in Cardiff since 2005, and for the last three years, he has been visiting the Students’ Union to ring the birds that hatch on our roof.

The ringing system has allowed experts to track the birds’ migratory habits, with birds regularly travelling as far as France, Portugal, Spain, Morocco and even The Gambia .

We currently have Lesser Black-backed Gulls nesting on our 4th floor balcony. Only about half of the gulls that are born in Cardiff will make it back to the city to breed after reaching the age of 4. Birds that make it past this age are likely to live longer lives, and birds of 14-16 years old are quite common. The oldest bird recorded was 35 years old! Peter logged a 28 year old male last year that was enjoying life in the south of Spain, rather than raising chicks in Bristol. 

The hot temperatures experienced in 2018 have resulted in a higher mortality rate in chicks than usual. The changes in temperature may have also caused some confusion in the breeding patterns of birds.

The purpose of the research project that Peter is undertaking is to understand behaviour of gulls and has shed light on how they interact with urban environments. The project has recently introduced GPS tracking which will give a much clearer picture of the routes that birds follow when they migrate and precisely how they operate during the breeding season. What has become clear is that the birds are individuals; each bird tracked behaved differently, that they have their own strategies for living and survival.

Males return to their native colony and if possible, will even come back to the roof where they hatched to rear their own young. Females behave differently and emigrate to find new places to breed.

Steffan is the latest Students’ Union chick to be colour-ringed after spending some hot summer weeks on the 4th floor. His colour-ring is white showing the code T=B in black. If Steffan makes it to adulthood, we may see him back at the Students’ Union in the future to rear a family of his own!

September update: Steffan has now left the Students' Union and is heading off to warmer climates to enjoy winter in the sunshine. 

Seagull Cam

To help the seagulls in the recent hot weather, staff gave them their own private pool on the 4th floor balcony! 

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