The team celebrate the history of British seabirds. For nine months a year these birds live out at sea, but for three months in summer they come to the British Isles to breed.
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For just a few months of the year,
we share the United Kingdom with a remarkable group of animals.
Every summer, 8 million seabirds come to our shores to breed
and they come from quite literally all around the world.
Most of the time they live out there,
in the vast emptiness of the world's oceans.
But then, for a short time, they come ashore...
..for the breeding season.
It's one of the greatest wildlife gatherings on Earth,
and it happens right here on our doorstep.
It's noisy, colourful, dramatic, and, if we dig a little deeper,
it turns out that these birds' lives are packed full of surprises.
Welcome to the Springwatch Guide to Seabirds!
Seabirds are actually an astonishing group of animals.
25 different species of them come to the UK,
and each has its own special qualities.
The huge Northern gannet - powerful, the master of the ocean.
Delicate Arctic terns, known as swallows of the sea.
They fly from the Antarctic Ocean
to the northern isles of Scotland every year.
And fulmars have, um... rather unpleasant habits.
From "Eurgh" to "Ahh!"
After nine months apart, far out at sea,
the gentle courtship of the puffin
has delighted bird watchers for generations.
In the summer, you can find these wonderful birds
all around our coastline, from the Northern Isles of Scotland,
to the southern isles of Wales and England
and we're going to the very best places to see them.
I'm on Orkney, off the northern tip of Scotland.
Iolo Williams is on Skomer Island, off the southwest coast of Wales.
Michaela? She's in Bath,
where she's finding out why so many of our cities
now echo to the plaintive cries of seagulls.
And Chris? Well, he's rooting about in the bowels of Bristol Museum,
looking for things to help him explain some of the deeper mysteries
of these fascinating birds.
Together, we'll be taking a closer look at our seabirds
and how they're coping in a fast-changing world.
But first of all,
what brings these creatures of the sea to land for the breeding season?
Well, of course, they don't have any choice -
they can't exactly lay their eggs on water.
And millions of them choose our coastline
because it provides them with everything they need
to raise their young.
I used to think that scenes like this,
thousands of seabirds nesting, were going on all over Europe.
But that's not the case.
This is a very special place.
In fact, birds will come from literally
all round the world to the British Isles to nest.
There are two reasons - one is the variety of nest sites.
We've got everything that they need to nest on, from cliffs
to sand dunes, agricultural land, we've got the lot.
The second is the sea.
Our seas are so rich in food,
they can support literally millions of mouths.
I'm on Orkney, perhaps the seabird capital of the UK.
And this ancient archipelago off the north coast of mainland Scotland
is a Mecca for seabirds.
Every summer, nearly a million of them
descend on these islands to raise their young,
including 22 out of our 25 different species.
Just listen to this.
LOUD BIRD CALLS
These are the great seabird cities of Orkney
and there are literally thousands of birds
nesting all along this cliff.
Orkney has some of the tallest sea cliffs in the British Isles.
Relatively safe from predators,
and right next to the ocean they rely on for food,
seabirds choose these rock faces to lay their eggs
and rear their chicks.
Just look at them, all lined up on these narrow ledges.
But it's not as chaotic as it might perhaps look.
Now, what's fascinating about these cliffs
is the way the different species separate themselves out
when they come here to nest.
So you've got a sort of middle band here,
and that's where the kittiwakes and guillemots are nesting.
And then tucked away in sort of holes all around the place
Just as they all choose different parts of the cliff,
they also have very different feeding habits.
Kittiwakes are known as surface feeders,
hardly dipping below the surface of the water.
And that's in complete contrast
to their neighbours on the cliffs, the guillemots.
They're some of the deepest diving of all seabirds,
capable of going over 100 metres underwater in search of food.
Now, unless you're a keen birder,
guillemots are easily confused with the razorbills.
The easiest way to tell them apart
is that a razorbill has white markings on its bill.
It also has a slightly fatter bill than the guillemot.
Guillemots have a totally black head, with a narrow bill.
But confusingly, up here on Orkney,
some of the guillemots have white markings round their eyes.
They're called bridled guillemots.
No-one knows what it's for, but the further north you go,
the more guillemots seem to be bridled.
I think it looks rather distinguished!
Up here on the cliffs,
the seabirds may be relatively safe from predators
but those thin ledges look awfully precarious to me.
How on earth do they stop the chick and particularly the eggs
falling off into the sea?
Chris is in the basement of the museum where he's found
exactly what he needs to explain how it all works.
Well, some of the smaller species like kittiwakes actually make nests.
Pretty good nests.
They'll fly some distance to collect weed, take it back to the ledge,
and then weld it together using their own faeces.
The result is a nest that's so substantial
it will last from year to year.
Further down the cliff, shags also use weed to make a nest.
But they also add a few sticks as well,
and they make a lovely cup to hold their eggs and chicks.
But other species, like the auks - guillemots, for instance -
make absolutely no nest at all.
No fabric is used in the making of their nest.
They simply lay their eggs onto bare rock.
So why don't they roll into the sea?
Well, it's all down to a magnificent adaptation
in the shape of the egg.
This is a guillemot's egg, and it's pear-shaped
and look what happens if it's accidentally dislodged.
It spins in a tight circle.
It stays on that rocky ledge.
It doesn't fall into the sea, many metres below.
Brilliant. Nature is endlessly inventive.
So those are the seabirds that breed on the cliff face,
but there's also another bird
that prefers to live at the top of the tower block, if you like -
Now, it may be a surprise to discover
that puffins like to nest underground in burrows
and one of the best places in the British Isles to see them
is the Welsh island of Skomer.
This little island is the largest
and most important seabird breeding colony
in the whole of southern Britain.
It's early April
and things are pretty quiet on Skomer at the moment.
Not too many puffins here yet.
But, out to sea, there's a sign of what's about to happen.
Every year, 6,000 pairs of Atlantic puffins
flock to this Pembrokeshire island.
It's the largest puffin breeding colony in southern Britain.
And I'm here to witness the return of the first migrants.
The air is filled with puffins flying around and calling.
They're all looking for someone.
PUFFINS CONTINUE TO CALL
Puffins are faithful to one life-long partner.
They're known to live for up to 29 years,
and, in that time, they'll return here every spring
to the same mate and the same burrow.
They only come to land to breed, that's it.
The rest of the year, they're out on the open ocean.
They really are a seabird, not a land bird.
And what you find is that they're concentrated in various areas,
areas that have been well-grazed by the rabbits,
areas that are full of holes.
It's like a piece of Swiss cheese under my arm here.
You've got puffins nesting in all of these burrows.
A good burrow on the cliff top, with easy access to the sea
and all the food it offers, is worth defending from newcomers.
Once everything settles down, it's time for a spot of spring-cleaning,
and a bit of nest-building.
And then, the puffins finally have some special time for each other.
This is a pair here in front of me.
We had a little bit of nibbling, sort of courtship, just a little bit.
They're quite loving birds when you see the pair together.
Bill clattering is a crucial part of re-establishing pair bonds.
It's the puffins' way of showing their affection.
And you might wonder, why has a bird like a puffin got such a huge bill?
The summer puffin is a beautiful thing -
just look at this lovely broad and colourful bill.
It also has bright gape flanges too, and wonderful pale cheeks.
It's all about communicating, it's all about display,
Mr and Mrs Puffin letting each other know exactly how they feel.
And it's a serious investment of material,
protein has gone into making that beak big, bright and beautiful.
Look at this puffin, a museum specimen
that was taken in the winter.
The bill has shrunk, and it's lost all of its colour.
It's not there to communicate anymore,
it's just there to get food for itself.
But for the moment, the puffins are in full breeding display.
The seabird breeding season on Skomer has really begun.
Back on Orkney, I'm heading to the tiny island of Copinsay.
It's a real hotspot for seabirds,
and I'm here to find some we haven't met yet.
Now, right down at the bottom of the cliffs here
are a whole rank of black birds.
Now those are shags.
Very similar to cormorants, you've probably seen cormorants.
But shags stay always near the coast,
whereas the cormorants come inland and they look black,
but if you look closely at them, they're anything but.
They're a kind of mysterious, magical green colour
with a bright, bright yellow bill.
And they're remarkable birds, shags.
They're very deep divers. They can go down to about 60 metres.
It always strikes me as amazing that a bird that can fly, can also dive.
It can live between worlds like that,
and they can hold their breath for well over a minute.
If you look a little higher up the cliff,
you can see these shags already have young.
They look almost reptilian!
Another seabird that breeds on Copinsay is the Northern fulmar.
And the fulmar's story is a fascinating one,
because the very first record of a fulmar nesting here in Orkney
was in 1900.
By the end of the 1980s, there were over 90,000 of them nesting here
and that number's stayed more or less the same.
It's thought that this dramatic increase in numbers
is down to discards from fishing vessels from the North Sea.
Suddenly, there was a totally new food source
available to seabirds like the fulmar.
Fulmars have one distinguishing feature
that makes them easily recognizable
and clearly different from a seagull -
a prominent tubular nostril on top of their bills.
But, Chris, what exactly is the tubenose for?
Well, all animals need salt, but none need too much of it.
Salt regulation is a very important affair
and if you're a seabird, feeding on a salty diet,
then clearly you've got a major problem.
As a bird, you can't sweat the excess salt away,
so how do you cope?
Well, in the case of the fulmar,
they have a small gland between the eye and the top of the bill
through which they pump all of their blood
and it's here that the excess salt is separated,
and it's here that the tubenose comes into play.
Because that excess salt goes into something
that we can only call salty snot,
and it's channelled through the tubenose, along the top of the bill,
it then runs down a groove in the bill
until it forms in a drip on the tip,
and it can fall away clear of all of the pristine feathers of the fulmar.
You see, if it didn't have the tubenose,
the salty snot would be running down its cheek,
and that's not a good look for a fulmar,
and it's not a good look for a small child.
And salty snot isn't the fulmar's only foul habit.
I've got to be a bit careful
because fulmars have a remarkable way of defending themselves.
If I was to get a little bit closer,
she would projectile vomit, she'd be sick all over me,
which is extremely unpleasant
because it smells horrible, whoops, he might do it too,
but worse than that, for a predator, say a peregrine,
if that sick gets over their feathers,
and they're very accurate at shooting it out,
it can mat the feathers up and peregrines have been killed
by getting too close to these fulmars
and getting covered in their sick.
One more thing about fulmars -
how old do you think she might be?
Many of these seabirds are very long-lived,
but fulmars, 20, 30 years.
One was ringed here in Orkney on the 18th of July 1951.
It was last seen nearly 41 years later.
That's not the end of the story,
it was ringed not as a baby but as an adult.
So it could have been easily, seven, ten years older than that.
That fulmar could be 50 years old
and that, folks, is almost as old as ME.
There are five species of tern that breed in the UK,
but this is perhaps my favourite, the Arctic tern.
Every spring, these beautiful birds, known as the swallows of the sea,
make an extraordinary journey, travelling over 20,000 miles
from the Antarctic Ocean to Orkney.
It's the longest migration ever recorded by any animal.
In a single lifetime, one of these delicate-looking birds
might have travelled over 1.5 million miles,
that's to the moon and back three times.
They weigh little more than 100 grams
and, to me, they look like they're made of paper.
Let's think for a moment about the lives these birds lead out at sea.
They only spend around three months of the year living here,
in the relative shelter of our shores.
But the rest of the time, they're out there,
trying to survive in the great wilderness of our oceans.
One of the most spectacular of our seabird visitors
is the Northern gannet.
It's the largest of our seabirds, with a wingspan of six feet.
The gannet is capable of travelling huge distances in search of food.
And, of course, it also does this!
But how does it thump into the water without hurting itself?
Well, firstly, they have no external nostrils.
If you're throwing yourself into the sea at about 45 miles an hour,
you don't want water going up your nose hard.
Secondly, they have air bags over the tops of their heads,
through their necks, and on the fronts of their wings
and these cushion the impact as they hit the water.
But lastly, it's all to do with their body position,
because as they enter the water,
they put their wings back so that they go in,
in an extremely streamlined fashion.
They go into the water like torpedoes
and to see it is absolutely fantastic.
Many seabirds, like the gannet and Arctic tern,
choose to breed on very remote islands,
which most of us will never get to visit.
But there are plenty of other seabirds
that choose to come to us in seaside towns all over Britain.
Michaela went for a day out in Weston-Super-Mare,
where she met some of our most regular visitors, the seagulls.
But did you know there's actually no such thing as a seagull?
In fact, it's the collective name for a group of seabirds,
and, here in the UK, we commonly see 11 different species.
We call them seagulls because we think they all look the same -
big, white birds that live by the seaside, with a noisy call.
But, of course, they all have distinguishing features.
The two gulls you're most likely to see at the seaside
are the herring gull, and the lesser black-backed gull.
And it's easy to get them confused.
But let's take a look at them.
The herring gull is a very large, noisy bird.
It's got a light grey back and black wing tips.
And pink legs.
Now, this gull has yellow legs, a dark-grey back and a yellow bill
and that means it's a lesser black-backed gull.
If you've ever looked carefully at either of these gulls
during the breeding season, you may have noticed
they have a bright red spot on their bill.
But do you know what that's for? Chris?
Well, it's really important, it's a target,
a target for the young gull chicks to peck at
when the adult returns to the nest,
and if you watch them, as soon as it gets there,
they jab furiously at the spot,
this instigates the regurgitating behaviour in the adult
that ensures that the youngsters get their meal.
There's another gull that you're quite likely to see
down by the sea and that's the black-headed gull.
Despite its name,
its head is actually more of a dark chocolate brown colour.
But don't get confused, because in the winter
the black-headed gull loses its dark head.
It just gets left with these funny headphone-like markings!
These gulls have a red bill and red legs, too.
Honestly, seagull ID isn't easy,
but with a few tips it is possible to tell them apart.
Gulls are one of the most domesticated,
and most visible, of our seabirds.
But, on Skomer, Iolo's got a much shyer bird.
It's the middle of May
and the island is quickly turning into a crowded maternity ward.
Everywhere, there are seabirds sitting on eggs.
And the sky is busy with birds preparing for the arrival of chicks.
They're all out looking for food.
But after dark, this island turns into a very different place.
The air is filled with the eerie calls
of a rather curious seabird of the night.
The Manx shearwater is the most numerous bird on Skomer.
128,000 pairs of them come here to breed every year,
a third of the world population.
During daylight hours,
the adults are either hiding away in burrows underground,
where they lay their eggs, or far out to sea, foraging.
It's only at night that the Manx shearwaters will return to land
to swap incubating duties.
But why are Manx shearwaters so clumsy?
Well, it's all to do with the positioning of their legs.
Look, they're right at the back of the body here.
Now this is perfect for a life at sea, perfect for paddling,
and perfect for diving.
But it's no good for walking.
And I know this mounted specimen shows the animal walking,
but to be honest with you, whenever I've seen them,
they've been shuffling along on their breast.
And, of course, prone to predation
from some of the larger gull and skua species
and it's for this reason
that shearwaters only come ashore at night.
Unfortunately, there are still plenty of victims every year.
This is what happens when a Manx shearwater is caught, killed,
and eaten by the biggest predator on Skomer, the great black-backed gull.
And it's not just the great black-backed gull
that these seabirds have to fear.
They run the gauntlet of death every time they leave their ledge.
Lots of predators time their breeding cycle to that of their prey -
And there's one seabird on Orkney
that has earned itself the nickname "the northern pirate".
Cruising the cliffs, the Arctic skua is a stunning bird -
graceful, streamlined, breathtakingly agile.
But it has a rather unusual speciality - kleptoparasitism.
The Arctic skua likes to chase and bully other seabirds
until they give up their food.
It's perfectly capable of catching its own meal,
but it just prefers to steal from others.
So far we've got a feel
for the tremendous variety of British seabirds,
and what a fascinating group of animals they are.
Each with their own special abilities and adaptations.
But as a group,
seabirds are experiencing some tough challenges right now.
The sea itself is changing quite dramatically
and birds like the Arctic skua are struggling.
Since the mid 1980s,
Arctic skuas in Orkney have declined by nearly 70%.
And unfortunately it's not the only seabird that's in trouble up here.
On a very windy morning, I met up with Eric Meek from the RSPB,
who's lived and worked with seabirds
on Orkney for over 30 years.
During that time, he's seen some dramatic changes.
Eric, at first sight, this cliff seems to have
lots of birds nesting on it, but all is not as it seems, is it?
No, and that's the case with a lot of our seabird colonies,
but this one perhaps more than any other.
It looks quite busy, at the moment, but compared to the mid 1980s,
there's only a tiny fraction of the birds that were here then.
What sort of numbers are we talking about?
Well, the kittiwakes have gone down by over 90%.
And the guillemots are down by over 90% as well.
Regular bird watchers say the cliffs of Orkney have gone quiet,
and you can see what they mean.
Great seabird cities like this one at Row Head on mainland Orkney,
are peppered with empty ledges,
which until recently would have been full of breeding seabirds.
30 years ago, how would this have looked? Can you remember?
Just a seething mass of birds.
We made a film about Orkney birds
called Northern Flights actually in 1989.
So that's 23 years ago.
And it's there in the film for everyone to see.
And it is just a mass of seabirds. Just a hive of activity.
And compared to then, things are very, very different now.
If you look closely, you can see a sad sight -
some abandoned kittiwake nests.
The birds did try to breed,
but then, they gave up.
So what on earth is happening up here in Orkney?
During the breeding season,
a lot of seabirds rely on a single food source, sand eels.
These small fish are full of fatty acids and packed with proteins,
essential for growing chicks.
But there's been a real shortage of sand eels in recent years.
And with less food available, some seabirds on Orkney are struggling.
To see this decline must be quite upsetting for you.
It's extremely upsetting, and very, very disappointing.
The saddest thing is that there's no quick fix.
So things are looking very serious for some seabirds in Orkney.
But what about in the south?
Well, surprisingly, that's a very different story.
The seabirds on Skomer are actually doing pretty well.
So where are we headed then, Tim?
It's June, and Iolo's joined Professor Tim Guilford,
a seabird scientist from Oxford University,
to find out how the breeding season is going this year.
Here we go. Tread carefully here.
Yeah, you must be really careful
cos this is just a honeycomb of burrows under here.
OK. There we are.
So what exactly are we doing here then, Tim?
Well, Iolo, we're measuring the growth rate of the baby puffins
to see how the reproduction on Skomer is going.
Dave, let's have a look and see if there's anything in this burrow.
Hopefully there's one in here. There was one in here a little while ago.
How old is this one then, Dave? It's a fair size.
Um, this one is just over a month old, so he'll be gone pretty soon.
Right, you want to weigh and measure that, Dave,
so we can put it back as soon as we possibly can.
So he's got a wing of 139mm.
OK, yup. So weight is what?
And roughly what weight will he be when he heads off to sea?
That's a reasonable weight.
The heaviest one I've found this year was 385 grams,
which is actually the heaviest one I've ever found on the island,
but they fledge anywhere between 275, 320 or so.
So this, Tim, this is a good sign.
It shows that these birds are very well fed.
Yeah, this is a nice example
of how well they are doing on Skomer, I think.
And eating what mainly?
Eating sprats and sand eels, those are the preferred foods,
but sand eels are an important part of their diet.
What puzzles me is why puffins on Skomer are doing so well,
and yet on Orkney and some of these northern islands,
the population's crashed.
That's right. And it's that distinction between what's happening
here in Pembrokeshire and what's happening in the north,
that has fascinated ecologists for some time.
And it has to be something to do, we think,
has to be something to do with the availability of sand eels.
So down here sand eels are as big,
as healthy as they have been for years.
In the north, and in Scotland, there have been serious declines
in sand eel availability.
Why is that? Is it climate change? Is it over-fishing? Or what, Tim?
We don't know for certain
and it could be a combination of those two factors and other things.
But we do know that there have been increases in sea surface temperature
in the North Sea in recent years.
And these have coincided with the decline
in puffin productivity and populations.
And we also know that these higher temperatures affect the plankton
on which sand eels feed and this has a knock-on effect
into the seabird productivity.
And of course fewer sand eels, fewer puffins.
That's absolutely right, yeah.
In recent years, climate change has caused
the North Sea water temperature to rise by almost two degrees.
And this has had a huge effect on the delicately-balanced marine ecosystem.
Cold water plankton species that the sand eels rely on for food
have moved north in search of colder water.
And the new, warmer-water species that have replaced them
bloom at the wrong time for the developing sand eel larvae.
Without enough food at the right time,
the sand eel population has crashed.
Are we going to see population declines,
like we're seeing on the northern islands,
eventually down here as well?
Well, we can't say for certain, and obviously we hope not,
we hope that it's an isolated situation in the North Sea.
But if climate change is part of the cause of that,
then I guess, in the long term, it is very likely
that we will see such changes here as well,
but for the moment things are looking good.
So it seems there's a clear north-south split,
with seabirds on southern islands like Skomer doing well.
Whilst those on northern islands like Orkney are struggling.
In fact, they're doing so badly up here on Orkney,
there's a chance we may lose some of them altogether.
Like the Arctic tern.
I'm back with Eric on the island of Westray,
and today we're going to try and ring some Arctic tern chicks.
But we're met with a very sad sight.
Look at that. That is sad.
That's a dead chick.
Poor little thing.
Interesting, you know, to know why that's died.
We don't know, maybe it's not getting enough food.
By monitoring the number of ringed birds
that return to Orkney each year,
Eric is able to measure breeding success
and survival rates of these seabirds.
-A nest with two eggs, just here.
-Look at that!
When they're getting plenty of food, they'll lay a clutch of three.
And, you know, if their food supply's really good
they'll rear all three chicks.
But in recent years, the food supply hasn't been so good.
So this is a clutch of two, some years we just see clutches of one.
There's another clutch of two over there.
But, so far, no more chicks.
OK, so there's a scrape here.
-Just with a single chick there, do you see it?
-I've got it.
-They're brilliantly camouflaged.
-It just sits absolutely still, Eric.
Look at that!
So this chick, small as though it is, it's OK to ring.
So, Eric, you've been studying these birds, these terns, for how long?
Well, I first came to Orkney 31 years ago, at the beginning of 1981.
And the year before I came, 1980,
there'd been a big tern census, both in Orkney and Shetland.
And in Orkney the figure was a phenomenal 33,000 pairs.
And in Shetland there were 31,00 pairs. So these are big, big numbers.
Some days during the breeding season,
we could go into some of these big colonies
and ring up to 1,000 chicks in a day.
Then around about 1984, 1985,
we were still ringing big numbers of chicks,
but in one of those years we didn't get a single recovery.
Now, that was very odd, we didn't know exactly what was going on.
And what seems to have happened actually, is that those chicks
didn't fledge, they didn't survive.
The food supply had failed and they probably never left the colony.
And from then on, we started seeing more and more problems
in these tern colonies with numbers declining,
years of very, very poor breeding success.
And what about now? What is, what's the latest figure?
Well, this looks like a great colony, doesn't it?
Yeah, it does.
But we've only got about 70 or 80 pairs here.
But if you think overall, you had, what was it,
33,000 pairs here on Orkney.
How many pairs do you think you've got now?
We reckon that the numbers have gone down now by three quarters.
We've probably only got about a quarter of those birds left, if that.
Let's put him back, Eric.
Ah, brilliant, just the same as my chickens,
put a shirt over their head, and they're completely relaxed.
Bit of a magician, Eric. Wonderful.
It's very sad to think that seabirds like the Arctic tern
could soon be lost as a breeding species -
they'll still visit, but not stay to breed.
Unfortunately, we aren't suddenly going to be able to reverse
the effects of climate change,
so there's very little we can do to help.
But there is a team of RSPB researchers,
who are involved with some extremely exciting new science.
Until now, we've known very little
about what our seabirds do once they leave their colony.
So these researchers are fitting birds
with small electronic tags
to work out where they're going to feed during the day,
how far they go, how long they spend fishing.
The data they're gathering is giving us some remarkable new insights
into the lives of our seabirds,
which in the future may enable us to do something to help.
I've come to meet Andy Knight from the RSPB
here in Orkney to find out more.
Some of the results already here. What does this one show us?
Yes, if you look at this one, this is a shag.
And you can see from here there's a lot of activity there.
So this is all in a 24-hour period.
So there's obviously a lot of to-ing and fro-ing.
To give you an idea of scale, this is on Copinsay
and that island's what, half a mile long?
So it's travelling very little distance at all.
Shag doing pretty well. They're a generalist feeder,
so they can feed on pretty much any species they want,
as long as they can get it in their mouth.
And the chicks don't mind what they get.
They regurgitate the fish,
so doesn't matter whether it's a big or small fish, it's just mush.
So that's the shag, and it's doing fairly well.
But what about this one?
Yeah, now this one is kittiwake.
This is a plunge feeder.
It's a different way of feeding to the shag.
So it can only get food from the surface.
It can only bring back one fish at a time, the sand eel,
it can't choose which, it would just be sand eels.
And you can instantly see that there's quite a difference there.
In the other map there, Copinsay filled your image there.
Here, Copinsay is just a dot,
you can't even make it out on the map.
You've got most of the rest of northeast Scotland,
all the way down to Aberdeen here,
the ferry time from Aberdeen to Orkney is eight hours,
so that's a long way.
Well, that must be travelling what, over 100 miles here, isn't it?
Would you say?
Way more. Several hundred kilometres.
To get one fish?
To eventually bring one fish back.
One fish back to the chick. Is that usual? Is that what you'd expect?
As an ecologist, it's absolutely not what you'd expect.
So it's having to go and find where those sand eels are.
And to breed successfully, you would expect it to travel
just a short distance to bring fish regularly back.
And, in this case, it obviously isn't managing that.
So there on that map, we can see why the kittiwakes are in trouble.
They're having to travel an enormous distance.
But there's something else positive here, maybe in the long term,
because it seems to be sort of stopping in specific areas.
It does, and the research is, that's really the purpose of it,
to find out exactly where these birds are feeding,
we can identify where the key feeding areas are and from that,
that will help us to determine in the future
how we protect these sea areas for the long-term benefit of these birds.
Not just the places where they nest, but the places where they feed,
which is something we just didn't know before.
We're pretty good at protecting our seabirds on land.
We've created nature reserves
at many of the larger seabird breeding colonies.
But seabirds spend most of their lives out at sea
so if we're really going to help them,
ideally, we need to start protecting them out there too.
The hope is research like this
will allow us to identify feeding hotspots in the ocean,
which one day we can designate as new Marine Nature Reserves.
But this is not a simple story.
While many of our seabirds, like the kittiwake,
are experiencing sharp declines, others are doing much better.
Bass Rock, off the east coast of Scotland,
hosts around 20% of the entire world population of Northern gannets.
And the colony is expanding every year.
Since 2001, numbers have gone from 42,000 breeding pairs,
to well over 55,000, good news.
Here on Orkney, it's a similar situation.
I'm back with Eric, who's brought me to Noup Head.
From time immemorial, the only gannet colony in Orkney
was on Sule Stack, 40 miles out into the Atlantic that way.
And then in 2003, two new colonies suddenly sprung up,
on the little island of Sule Skerry,
which is about five miles from the Stack,
and here on the Noup, just out of the blue, three nests were found.
That was 2003. By 2009, there were 500 nests here.
They just went up like a rocket.
And now, this year, we've just counted them again
and there are 623 nests.
So does that mean overall gannet numbers are actually increasing?
They seem to be at the moment.
And the reason for them coming here is possibly because
Sule Stack got over-populated, there's about 5,000 pairs there.
So as far as we know, at the moment this is a good news story in Orkney?
Yes, it's one of the few in the seabird world.
Why do you think the gannets are doing so well?
Well, they're not totally dependent on sand eels.
All the other birds we've been seeing
eat almost nothing but sand eels, and if they can't get sand eels,
then their breeding success is badly affected.
The gannet is a big bird. It can fly long distances.
It can hunt for food over a wide area away from the colony.
And it can hunt on much bigger fish, things like mackerel, for example.
And they also eat a lot of fisheries discards,
the fish that are being thrown back into the sea off fishing vessels.
And they're incredibly spectacular when they fish.
-Thumping into the water.
Vertical dive, from 100 feet up or more.
Putting their wings back and just slicing through the water.
-And what a spectacular sight that is.
It seems that right now
the most successful seabirds are those capable of adapting.
Even, in some cases, moving away from the sea itself.
Michaela's heading to the city of Bath
where seabirds like the herring gull and lesser black-backed gull
are becoming an increasingly common sight.
Listen to that noise - now that is the sound of seagulls.
And when I was a little girl,
if you heard that, it meant that you were in a town or city by the sea.
But, these days, that's not the case.
You could be anywhere in the country, even in the land-locked city of Bath.
Today I'm meeting ornithologist Peter Rock,
who's spent the last years studying the rise of gulls
in our towns and cities.
Peter, I must say, I've always found the City of Bath a very nice place.
-But what do the gulls find so attractive about Bath
and other towns and cities?
OK, now, turn your gull brain on. And have a look out there.
And what you can see is a whole load of islands with very steep cliffs.
That means that they're very safe. No predators.
Hardly any disturbance.
Our towns offer other benefits too, like street lighting
that means they can forage later into the night.
And, of course, there are a lot more food opportunities.
These birds know everything there is to know about food
within a radius of 100km of here.
They know where restaurants are leaving their waste out.
They know all the landfills, of course.
They know everything they need to, which is why they're so successful.
Seagulls are moving into our towns and cities all over the UK,
it's not just Bath.
It seems the places we choose to live are more and more attractive to them
as they struggle to make a living at sea.
Today Peter's going to be ringing some of this year's chicks.
That's it, grab him! Grab him, yeah, lovely.
It's the best way for him to keep tabs on these urban gull populations
and find out more about what's going on.
So this is where we're doing our ringing?
Shove them right up against the wall, look. That's it.
When Peter's ringing the chicks, he also takes some measurements,
which allow him to work out their age, sex,
and even what species they are.
Because when they're this young,
lesser black-backed and herring gulls look very similar.
I just open the wing.
The primaries are all dark,
and in particular that area there is darkish and plain.
-So this is a lesser black-backed?
-This is a lesser black-backed gull.
In herring gulls, this would all be very pale
and it would be very mottled
and then the primaries would be brown as opposed to blackish.
How old do you reckon this one is?
By the size of him, six weeks.
And I expect them at six weeks to have a wing of around about 300,
and you can see that this one is actually 301.
Thanks to Peter's detailed records going back decades,
we've learnt a huge amount about the seagulls that are now living inland.
And they're a very different bird
from the birds we see around the coast.
These urban gulls will never go back to the wild.
They will always go to another urban colony, if they're female,
or back to their own colony if they're male.
-So an urban gull will always be an urban gull?
-Can I let this one go?
-You certainly can, yes.
Now, remember he can bite, but he won't bite hard.
OK. Oh, hello, hello. Where shall I put him?
Shove him down there, that'll be fine. Just let him go.
OK, ready? One, two, three, go.
Don't have to throw him, just put him down.
Oh, he wants to stick around, this one. No, he's off!
So Peter, urban numbers of gulls are up, rural numbers are down,
but how is the population doing as a whole?
What we're looking at is a decline overall in the population.
The difference of course is that urban gulls are very successful,
and are increasing rapidly.
Whereas rural gulls are declining,
and quite dramatically, too, actually.
We're looking at a situation where, eventually, urban gulls
will be more numerous than rural gulls.
Urban gulls are taking over the world, you mark my words.
Actually, I'm not joking!
It seems that some of the most successful seabirds are the ones
that have ditched the sea and headed inland for alternative food sources.
And it's incredible how well these urban gulls are doing.
However, if their success continues,
it could cause them problems,
as many local residents and councils view them as pests.
These big birds can make a dreadful mess.
And that terrible noise.
You know, all they're actually saying to each other is,
"Come and mate with me, or get lost!"
What a racket.
I guess if we're going to keep enjoying seabirds in the UK,
we ALL need to adapt.
We're extremely fortunate that, every summer,
eight million seabirds choose to come to our shores
to have their young.
Their breeding season provides us with a wonderful wildlife spectacle.
But, of course, it all comes to an end
when the seabirds return to the sea.
Iolo's back on Skomer for one last time.
It's late June,
and we're getting to the end of the seabird breeding season.
Some of the chicks are starting to think about fledging.
Careful where we go, just watch your footing there.
'But first of all, Tim's taking me to meet
'one of the island's newest arrivals.'
-Let's see what we've got in there.
-Right, let's see what we've got.
Ahh, what a beautiful bird.
That's brilliant. Come on, little guy.
How old is that, Tim?
That's five days old, Iolo.
-Five days! Is that all?
-It's grown a lot in days, hasn't it?
-We'd better weigh it.
-We're going to weigh it.
And a typical Manx shearwater beak already. That long beak.
Oh, yes. You can already see it's a baby Manx shearwater.
That's 135 grams.
-Do you want me to hold him for you?
-Yeah, why don't you?
Come here, boy, get my hands nice and warm.
Look at that, what a little beauty!
Hey, get your head up, look, don't worry, we mean you no harm,
I'll just keep you warm.
And this will be in its burrow for how long now?
Almost another 70 days.
So it's not going to leave until mid-September?
That's right. Early September.
It'll be one of the last birds on the island, won't it?
Everything, all the other seabirds pretty much will have finished
long before the shearwaters fledge.
And in fact, most of their parents will have gone
by the time they fledge as well.
And, of course, they go all the way down to South America.
That's right, yes.
So a journey of, what, 25,000km round trip, probably.
Plenty of food down there for them.
Right, I'd better give you that to put back.
Thank you very much then, what a stunning little bird.
Thank you for that, that's a real privilege.
Now, Tim, we've known for quite some time that our Manx shearwaters
go all the way down off the coast of South America,
but what we haven't known until now, Tim,
is where our puffins go in the winter.
So the picture for puffin migration has been very patchy until recently,
when we were able to use geo-location technology
to track individual puffins using these little devices here.
And where do they go?
Well, it's a very interesting picture.
The answer seems to be that they go pretty much everywhere.
I mean, I'm exaggerating,
but they have this highly dispersive migration.
From Skomer, we have puffins which...
breeding puffins which migrate out towards Greenland, beyond Greenland.
We have some which migrate down into the Mediterranean.
And each individual is doing something different.
In fact, puffins from neighbouring burrows,
who've spent the summer living just a couple of feet away from each other,
could end up spending the winter thousands of miles apart.
The breeding season on Skomer is drawing to a close.
It's time for the seabirds to start heading back out to sea,
and their chicks will soon follow them.
For these young birds, it's a brave jump into the great blue yonder,
but also a brave leap into a very uncertain future.
Let's for a moment be ruthlessly realistic.
The process of climate change is not going to stop,
the temperature of these seas
is going to continue to rise inexorably.
So what's going to happen right here in Orkney, right now?
Well, some of our seabirds, unfortunately,
are not going to make it. They've had it.
But I don't think those magnificent sea cliffs
are going to fall silent.
It's just going to be a process of change.
The numbers are going to change, and the types of bird nesting there
are also going to change.
But maybe, over the centuries, that change has gone on anyway.
We've just got to hope that some, at least,
of our seabirds can keep pace with what's happening now.
A lot of work is being done to find out what's going wrong
with our seabirds, and what we can do to help them.
But I can't urge you enough to get out and visit
one of these seabird colonies for yourself in summer.
The Orkneys, the Bass Rock, the Skomer Island Complex -
these are wildlife spectacles with no compare.
They're better than the Serengeti.
They're better than Antarctica.
They really are the best of British wildlife.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
The Springwatch team - Martin Hughes-Games, Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan - with special guest Iolo Williams, celebrate the wonderful natural history of our seabirds.
Seabirds are a remarkable group of animals. Each species has its own incredible biology and fascinating story. Did you know that in its lifetime, the migratory Arctic Tern will have travelled as far as the Moon and back three times? And that the Northern Gannet can dive into the water at speeds of over 60 miles per hour?
For nine months of the year these wonderful birds live out at sea, inaccessible to us in the vast wilderness of the world's oceans but for three special months in the summer, they come to the British Isles to breed in huge numbers - a staggering 8 million seabirds of 25 different species. It is one of the greatest wildlife gatherings on Earth and it happens right here on our doorstep.
This is our chance to really get to know these fabulous birds of the sea. The Springwatch team has travelled to the far corners of the UK to bring you the very best of our British seabirds and tell their amazing tales. Martin Hughes-Games is in Orkney, the seabird capital of the UK; Iolo Williams is on Skomer Island - the largest and most important seabird breeding colony in southern Britain and home to 6,000 pairs of Atlantic Puffins; Chris Packham is in Bristol Museum where he investigates the amazing way our seabirds are built for a life of extremes; and Michaela Strachan is in the city of Bath, where some of our seabirds have moved away from their traditional breeding grounds by the sea.