Rare ivory gull makes foray from high Arctic to Fetlar

ANOTHER ivory gull was recorded this week in Fetlar, first being observed there on the 14th.

Like the individual seen at Seafield, Lerwick, in late November this was a first winter bird with white plumage finely-spotted with black, and dark markings on the head.

Ivory gulls are nationally rare species, being vagrants from the high Arctic. They breed on steep cliffs or on level land near the sea. Outside the breeding season, this species winters on the edge of the Arctic pack-ice, often scavenging on the remains of polar bear kills.

In addition to feeding on left-overs and carrion, ivory gulls forage for invertebrates and fish, by dipping-to-surface, surface-plunging and wading. In Shetland, vagrant ivory gulls are usually recorded after strong northerly gales and are most often seen in harbours.

The first Shetland record was from Unst in 1822.

The total of Iceland gulls around the Shetland Catch factory reached seven this week with further records from Clickimin and Gulberwick, along with a few records of the larger glaucous gulls.

There was a goosander at Boddam and three pochards on the Loch of Tingwall. In Lerwick a dunnock, a blackcap and a couple of chaffinches were observed with another record of a blackcap at Cunningsburgh.

A few house sparrows come to our garden feeders, but I was recently staying in Lerwick with friends and enjoyed watching their regular clientele of around 30 house sparrows feeding busily.

There have been house sparrows in Shetland since at least the 18th century, the first written record of the species being in 1733 by Thomas Gifford. In 2002 the population was estimated at between 1,500 and 3,000 pairs, although Shetland has one of the lowest densities of house sparrows in Scotland.

These chirruping little birds are found around human habitations, even spending periods of time inside structures like outbuildings. They are usually found feeding near to buildings such as in fields, on farms, in gardens and in parks. Their main diet is grain and seeds along with buds, shoots and peanuts (from feeders).

House sparrows are very sedentary with juveniles dispersing no more than a few kilometres from where they hatched. Between 1974 and 199 there was a 62 per cent reduction in the house sparrow population in the UK but this trend was not matched in Scotland where the population has shown a 39 per cent increase from 1994-2004. They may not be colourful garden visitors but their chirping is a cheerful addition to a winter’s day.

Joyce Garden


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