Tag Archives: seabirds

Why do guillemot chicks leap from the nest before they can fly?

(Aarhus University, Physorg; 24 March 2017)
It looks like a spooky suicide when small, fluffy guillemot chicks leap from the cliffs and fall several hundred metres towards the sea – long before they are fully fledged. But researchers have now discovered that there is good reason behind this seeming madness.

And you ask yourself why when you on a calm Arctic night watch the spectacular sight of dozens of young guillemots who leave their safe nests and flutter past the towering cliffs into nothingness.

What is it that drives these young birds into something that to the eye seems an impossible survival strategy for the species?

Food deep in the ocean

Researchers from, among others, Aarhus University, Denmark and Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Greenland, have now discovered that there is good reason behind this seeming madness. They mounted small electronic loggers on the legs of a number of birds and recorded the birds’ flight and diving behaviour in detail.

The guillemot (or thick-billed murre) is a seabird with a long life span. The female lays only one egg and thus has no more than one chick per year. Guillemots nest on cliffs in the Arctic, often in very large colonies with up to hundreds of thousands of birds—including Saunders Island, Thule, Greenland, where researchers have now studied their behaviour.

The arctic summer is short and females must quickly produce an egg. After the chick is hatched and is still in the nest, both the mother and the father bring it food, which consists of small fish.

The small electronic dataloggers revealed that guillemots can dive very deep to find food—down to about 200 m. This is deeper than for any other flying bird.

Males ensure the growth of their offspring

The distance from good fishing spots to the colony may be long, and in late summer the female is exhausted. This is when the male steps into character and guides his offspring to the sea and the indispensable pantry. And the male stays with his offspring for five to seven weeks at sea.

“Our measurements show that the male feeds the chick twice as much as both parents could if the chick remained in the colony.

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A light of hope for seabirds

albatross.jpg(Francisco González Táboas & Leo Tamini; 21 march 2017)

A new light of hope opened last week for large seabirds when Argentina established the use of measures to prevent its death in fisheries.

The days are not easy in the South Atlantic. Life is hard on the ship. The bad weather, the waves of several meters of height and the constant movement make the tasks of the sailors more difficult. The days, weeks and months away from the families accumulate and make the mainland a very coveted good. However, most of these men – and women – on board love the sea. They love their fish, which give them work and livelihood to live. And they love birds too. The immense and impressive albatrosses and petrels are, along with dolphins and whales, faithful companions of the days on the high seas.

And there are a few times when they have to kill or sacrifice some of these birds, which are caught in the dragging cables of the nets. In fact they are many. It is estimated that every year between 9,000 and 18,000 black-browed albatrosses Thalassarche melanophrys die on only thirty Argentine freezer vessels fishing for hake.

With the help of the Albatross Task Force Argentina of Aves Argentinas (BirdLife in the country), boat workers have learned to recognize and identify each species: the black-browed mollymawk Thalassarche melanophris, the Daption capense petrel, the Southern giant petrel Macronectes giganteus, the white capped albatross Thalassarche cauta, the Southern royal albatros of the south Diomedea epomophora and, of course, the king of the seas, the wandering albatross Diomedea exulans, among others, are part of the varied avifauna of those icy Seas.

Each death of one of them hurts. However they have also learned that things can be done to prevent these birds from dying while fishing.…..

Read more in spanish

Seabirds encounter natural changes in the ocean environment

Ancient Murrelets. Credit: Daniel Donnecke

(Spike Millington; March 13, 2017)

Seabirds encounter natural changes in the ocean environment, such as El Nino events that can affect the currents and bring warm or cold water, which in turn affect the distribution and abundance of prey species, such as fish and squid. However, the risk with global climate change is that such events become less predictable and possibly more regular, so that ability of seabird species to adapt can be affected, both in the short-term and long-term. This massive die-off of Common Murres (Guillemots) was due to unusually warm water temperatures affecting the birds’ food supply. If good conditions return, the seabirds can perhaps compensate with good breeding success and numbers can recover in the short-term. In the long-term however, the impacts of climate change-induced conditions are far from certain, requiring long-term monitoring to be able to assess patterns of response.

Now is the time to build a brighter future for our seas

havssula2.jpg(RSPB; Andy Hay; 13 March 2017)

The number of overfished stocks in the northeast Atlantic has dropped by a quarter in the last 10 years, but the latest data show close to half of all assessed stocks are still being overfished.
• Eight conservation organisations are today calling on governments to develop new fisheries law that puts sustainability at the heart of fisheries management enabling fish stocks to continue recovering.
• The organisations have published 10 principles for governments to follow to help build a brighter future for our seas, which include effective legislation that goes beyond current EU commitments, and the setting of sustainable fishing levels.
Conservationists are today calling on the UK and developed governments to work together as we prepare to leave the European Union to develop new fisheries law that will allow fish stocks to recover while putting our traditional fishing industries and coastal communities on a sustainable footing.
As an island nation our coastal communities and connection to the sea hold a special place in our cultural identity. Our seas are also home to or visited by an amazing variety of wildlife such as puffins, Minke whale, lesser sandeel and basking shark.
Over the last 10 years progress has been made on reducing overfishing in the northeast Atlantic and adjacent waters. In this period the number of assessed stocks being overfished dropped by over a quarter. However, the latest official information confirms that 47% of assessed stocks are still being overfished, which doesn’t just impact on the profitability of our fisheries but also the food supplies and habitats that support other marine life.

The Gawky Guillemot

(Jochen, March 5, 2017)

I guess we can universally agree that the colonial times were a rather selfish period of European history. There is indeed little good that can be ascribed in retrospective to this period, and the little good there is pales in comparison to the bad things. However, one of the little sweet candies Germany still enjoys today from its own disastrous colonial past is the Common Guillemot, or Common Murre.
Germany has only one high seas island it calls its own, the mighty (from a birding perspective) island of Heligoland. Heligoland is actually a small archipelago (comprising of 2 islands with a total area of 1.7 km²) in the German Bight, approximately 70 km off the coast of Germany. This location out at sea not only makes Heligoland one of Europe’s best vagrant traps for Siberian songbirds, its cliffs also hold Germany’s only seabird colonies, with gannets, fulmars, and – yes – alcids, namely razorbills and common guillemots.

However, these breeding colonies were not always German breeding colonies. Denmark frequently held posession of the islands from the middle ages to the 18th century. Then the islands’ masters frequently switched between Denmark and the Duchy of Schleswig (which would much later be part of Germany) until it was captured once and for all by Denmark in 1740. Well, “for all” lasted until 1807 when Heligoland capitulated to the British during the Napoleonic Wars. Surely the British cared little for the seabirds as they had and still have plenty of their own. This may explain why in 1890, they gave Heligoland away to the relatively young country Germany (formed in 1871) in a deal known as the Heligoland – Zanzibar Treaty. In this treaty, the Germans ceded control over some of their colonial territories in East Africa to the British in return for the Caprivi Strip (now Namibia) and, surprise, the island of Heligoland. This relatively recent affiliation to Germany even survived the Second World War and the – arguably understandable – attempt in 1947 by the British to destroy the main island with 6,700 tons of explosives in one of the biggest non-nuclear detonations the world has ever seen. The cliffs survived along with the rest of the island and are still manned by endless rows of Common Guillemots during the breeding season, offering German birders an easy way – the only easy way – of enjoying this iconic species.
Of course Guillemots can also be seen away from Heligoland on both coasts of Germany, the North Sea and Baltic Sea, but as with other species of alcids and other areas of coast, this requires searching far out at sea from shore with a scope, and settling for tiny black-and-white dots that dart just above the waves in the typical alcid whirlwind of wing beats. It was thus with a mighty amount of surprise and happiness that I found a Common Guillemot swimming in a deep-water channel just off the northern beach of Germany’s island Sylt in late December 2016 – only my second-ever satisfying sighting in Germany as I have yet to visit Heligoland. The bird negotiated the waters just 15 metres off the beach, where waves with small amplitude yet high frequency were the result of high winds and very strong currents around a veritable maelstrom that was formed by the receeding tide flowing around the tip of a sandbar. This made photography a challenge but was a charming reminder of the German name for the bird: Trottellumme, or Gawky (dopey, foolish) Guillemot.

The origin of the German word Lumme (guillemot or murre in English) lies in the old Nordic word “lom” and is likely onomatopoeic. But what is it about the species that makes the Germans think it is a bit dim-witted? Honestly, breeding on tiny ledges high up in cliffs doesn’t help in conveying a common-sense approach to life and reproduction, no matter what the pressure by predators. Especially so when you are barely able to fly. And having you young ones jump off those cliffs onto boulder slopes to meet their parents beyond the surf? Spending the winter far out at sea in the Arctic when you are a bird barely larger than a feral pigeon? Diving in murky waters infested with corkscrew killers? Yes, yes, those would all be justified reasons for being labelled in such a manner. But these insanities aren’t unique to the Common Guillemot, yet Germans consider the other alcid species to be non-stupid.

The secret to them being mocked with such a name is in their gait: in contrast to the Razorbill, which is the only other species of alcid commonly seen on land by German-speakers, the Common Guillemot does not walk on its toes (or feet as birders would call it). Instead, it walks on what we would describe as its knees, stretching its tarsus and feet forward. Which is just an awkward thing to do in general and particularly so on narrow rock ledges high up vertical cliffs. An alternative theory is that the Germans stole the term Trottellumme from the French, where it is called Guillemot de Troïl. However, that explanation isn’t nearly half as funny and also, this would suggest that Germans referred to the species as Trottelguillemot, not Trottellumme. And finally, the French word “Troïl” does not seem to exist outside the species’ French name and I am pretty sure many a French birder will tell you that Troïl was stolen from the German word “Trottel”. So there you go, and I’ll stick with the gait thing, especially as it once again proves the superiority of German bird names over the rather straight-forward English ones. And yes, that’s a challenge to prove me wrong in the comments below. But beware, you’ll likely go under like a guillemot.

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Disentangling the cause of seabird deaths in South Africa


(Reason Nyengera, 2 Mar 2017)

Net entanglements have become a major problem for seabirds in South African side trawl vessels. Despite huge success in reducing the incidental catch of seabirds in fishing nets, there’s been reports that an old type of vessel used in South Africa is still posing serious threats to seabirds.

The Albatross Task Force (ATF) has been highly successful in achieving a remarkable reduction in the incidental catch of seabirds in the South African hake trawl fishing industry through the introduction of bird-scaring lines; a simple and affordable solution. These lines act as visual deterrents to prevent cable strikes.

Despite these overwhelming achievements, there is a vessel class of side trawlers which is still posing a serious threat to seabirds. The side trawlers are some of the oldest vessels in South Africa’s demersal trawl fishery. These vessels haul catch over the side, rather than over the stern. The nets are also deployed over the side with the trawl warps passing through two blocks suspended at the stern. Hence trawl dragging is actively done from the stern.

Net entanglement is a major problem when the net stays loose on the sea surface for longer periods, for example during hauling and setting. Diving birds, mainly Cape Gannets can become trapped in the mesh of the net. Side trawlers are of special concern many because of the hauling process where loose net floats for a longer period compared to that of stern trawlers.

Evidence of this interaction by South African vessel, was captured on camera by our former Albatross Task Force leader Barry Watkins on one of his trips however we do yet have a clear idea of the magnitude of the issue in South Africa.

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Regeringen ägnar sig åt “greenwashing”

(Text: Birdlife Sverige, Foto: John Larsen, 2017-03-02)

Den 14 december 2016 presenterade regeringen stolt att man beslutat föreslå EU-kommissionen att godkänna nya marina områden för bevarande av hotade arter, i första hand tumlare men även sjöfåglar såsom alfågel. Det kan förefalla som en nobel handling av en miljömedveten regering och kan förhoppningsvis leda fram till positiva effekter för naturen. Inom BirdLife Sverige hyser vi emellertid starka farhågor att förslaget inte blir den framgång vi hoppats på. Här nedan redogörs kort för grunderna för detta.
Förslaget innebär till att börja med att Sverige, efter påtryckningar från EU, nu kommer att uppfylla målet om 10 % skyddade marina områden. Vi får känslan av att regeringen på detta sätt enklast möjligt bockar av kravet från EU-kommissionen. Innebär det att regeringen hädanefter tänker luta sig tillbaka och anse att man gjort vad som behövs för att rädda tumlaren och andra hotade arter i Östersjön? Även om EU-kommissionen skulle acceptera förslaget och införliva områdena i Natura 2000, så innebär det inget omedelbart skydd. Först när det omsätts i praktiken, genom länsstyrelsernas bevarandeplaner, kan förändringar ske. Det vill verkligen till att bevarandeplanerna sätter upp tydliga riktlinjer för hur skyddet ska implementeras, exempelvis på vilket sätt olika verksamheter får bedrivas inom områdena.
Låt oss betrakta det gigantiska området ”Hoburgs bank och Midsjöbankarna”, en över 100 kvadratmil stor areal söder om Gotland och sydost om Öland. Denna yta korsas av en av världens allra mest koncentrerade båttrafikleder, med påföljd att oljeutsläppen är omfattande. Dessa utsläpp är ett allvarligt hot mot Östersjöns övervintrande alfågelpopulation, som är stadd i drastisk minskning (Starkt hotad på rödlistan) och vars viktigaste område är knutet till musselförekomsterna på nämnda bankar. Är det rimligt att tro att trafiken kommer att läggas utanför hela Natura 2000-området eller att noggrann kontroll av oljeutsläpp kommer att ske inom det? Och med tanke på att tumlare äter fisk, vilka restriktioner kommer fiskeflottan att få? Det förefaller i princip omöjligt att skapa något effektivt skydd gentemot dessa två starka industrier inom ett så enormt havsområde långt ute till havs. Vore det då inte bättre att göra skyddsområdet väldigt mycket mindre och verkligen skapa ett skydd värdigt namnet inom gränserna, och istället utse ytterligare starkt skyddsvärda områden på andra håll? Återigen, det känns väldigt enkelt och lättvindigt att göra på det sätt som regeringen nu föreslagit.