Mediterranean Gulls Larus melanocephalus wintering along the Mediterranean Iberian coast: numbers and activity rhythms in the species’ main winter quarters

Abstract

Knowledge of the winter distribution of the Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus is poor. The limited and geographically patchy data on the species’ winter distribution is of concern because current estimates of the wintering population do not agree with those for the global breeding population. We assessed the winter distribution and abundance patterns of this gull in Mediterranean Iberia, a historically important wintering area for which recent data are lacking. Information for the whole study area was obtained from a systematic boat-based survey over the continental shelf in 2003. Then, particular attention was paid to St. Jordi Gulf, a known hotspot for the species, where we studied the temporal patterns in abundance throughout the winter months, and daily activity rhythms, between 2005–2006 and 2008–2009. To set our results in a global context, the available information of the winter range of the species was collated and synthesised. The results indicate that the Iberian Mediterranean coast is the main winter quarters of the species. An average population of ca. 41,000 individuals was present in the area, representing approximately half the 86,311 individuals (range 50,747–121,875) recorded across the whole of the species’ winter range. At the local scale, the St. Jordi Gulf represented the most important area for the species in winter, with an average of around 17,000 individuals and peaks of up to 45,000 in early and late winter. Thus, we argue that this is a globally important area for the species. Daily rhythms involve birds moving between offshore feeding areas during the day (where they largely consume fishing discards) to inland olive crops and bathing and drinking sites (Riudecanyes reservoir) in the afternoon, and finally to coastal roost sites at dusk (Cambrils). Given the global significance of the population wintering in this small area, measures to protect Riudecanyes reservoir and the marine and inland foraging areas should be implemented as a matter of priority. Further research is needed to assess the actual population size of the Mediterranean Gull global population and its conservation status, as well as the threats that the species faces.

Zusammenfassung

Nur wenig ist von der Winter-Verbreitung der Schwarzkopfmöwen Larus melanocephalus bekannt; dabei sind gerade die begrenzten und geographisch nur sporadischen Verbreitungs-Daten dieser Art im Winter deshalb speziell interessant, weil die derzeitigen Schätzungen der Winterpopulation nicht zu denen der globalen Brutpopulation passen. Wir untersuchten das Vorkommen und Verteilungsmuster dieser Möwenart entlang der spanischen Mittelmeerküste, einem für sie schon seit langem wichtigen Überwinterungsgebiet. Die Daten wurden 2003 in einer systematischen Erhebung über dem Kontinentalschelf von einem Boot aus gesammelt. Daran anschließend wurde der Golf von St. Jordi, ein bekannter hotspot dieser Spezies, genauer untersucht: das zeitliche Verteilungsmuster der Möwen sowie ihr täglicher Aktivitätsrhythmus von Juni 2005 bis September 2008. Um unsere Ergebnisse in einen größeren Zusammenhang zu setzen, wurden alle anderen verfügbaren Informationen über die Winterverbreitung dieser Art gesammelt und vergleichbar gemacht. Die Ergebnisse legen nahe, dass die spanische Mittelmeerküste das Winterquartier dieser Möwenart ist. In dieser Gegend betrug die durchschnittliche Population ca. 41,000 Individuen, was etwa die Hälfte der 86.311 Individuen ausmacht (50.747 - 121.875), die über alle Winterquartiere dieser Art hinweg gezählt wurden. Im örtlichen Maßstab erwies sich der Golf von St. Jordi mit im Schnitt 17,000 beobachteten Individuen und Spitzen von bis zu 45,000 im frühen und späten Winter als wichtigstes Überwinterungsgebiet für diese Spezies. Deshalb postulieren wir, dass dies eine auch im globalen Maßstab wichtige Gegend für diese Art ist. Die Tagesrhythmen ergaben sich aus den Bewegungen der Vögel von den Futterplätzen auf dem Meer, wo sie sich tagsüber hauptsächlich von weggeworfenen Fischabfällen ernähren, zu den Olivenhainen und Bade- und Trink-Gelegenheiten (das Wasserreservoir von Riudecanyes) am Nachmittag und schließlich gegen Sonnenuntergang zu den Schlafplätzen an der Küste (Cambrils). In Anbetracht der globalen Bedeutung dieser in einem solch kleinen Areal überwinternden Population, sollten Maßnahmen zum Schutz des Riudecanyes-Reservoires und der Gebiete im Meer und auf dem Land, in denen die Vögel Nahrung aufnehmen, mit Priorität ergriffen werden. Weitere Untersuchungen sind notwendig, um die tatsächliche globale Populationsgröße der Schwarzkopfmöwen sowie die sie bedrohenden Faktoren und den aktuellen Stand ihres Schutzes festzustellen.

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Acknowledgments

We are very grateful for the information about the gull movements and behaviour provided by Joan Martí, Elisabet Puig, Josep M. Rofes and Josep Roig. Many thanks to Matxalen Pauly and Camil Albert for their help during censuses in the St. Jordi Gulf area, and to Ana Giráldez and the rest of scientific staff and crew of R/V “Coornide de Saavedra” on the ECOMED cruise (Spanish Institute of Oceanography, IEO) for their permission to conduct the surveys at sea and their help onboard. Daniel Oro and Robert Furness also provided logistical support for these surveys. The help of David Vieites, Xavier Ferrer and Sean Timmins was very valuable in the manuscript correction and comments. We also wish to thank all the colleagues that contributed to this paper by provision of indispensable information to perform the winter population review. In the supplementary material, the list of all the contributing people is included. It has been very valuable to have the information and comments performed by Renaud Flamant, Nicola Baccetti, Pascal Raevel, Miguel Tirado, David Bigas, Toni Curcó, Cisco Vidal, Salva García, Luis Aleixos Alapont, Julio Merayo, Raül Aymí, Ángel Sallent, Carola Sanpera, Manolo García, Marc Olivé, Carles Carboneras, Paquita Guimet, Mº José Motilva, Agustín Brenes, María Roca López-Cepero and Antonio Garrido. We are very gratefult to Chris Gibbins and three anonymous referees for their valuable comments on a previous version of this paper. The support provided by the Diputació de Tarragona and by Cambrils and Riudecanyes city councils has been very important. J.M.A. was supported by a Marie Curie postdoctoral Fellowship during the fieldwork stage (QLK5-CT2002-51518). A.C. acknowledges the Generalitat de Catalunya for the financial support of a Doctoral fellowship of the FI programme (2009FIC75).

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Correspondence to Albert Cama.

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Communicated by P. H. Becker.

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Cama, A., Josa, P., Ferrer-Obiol, J. et al. Mediterranean Gulls Larus melanocephalus wintering along the Mediterranean Iberian coast: numbers and activity rhythms in the species’ main winter quarters. J Ornithol 152, 897–907 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-011-0673-6

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Keywords

  • Foraging ecology
  • Important bird area (IBA)
  • Population estimates
  • Seabird
  • Winter distribution