The Black-Backed Gull is known as the King of the Gulls, although itís really just a big bully. It is similar in shape and features to a Herring Gull but is much larger with black upper parts instead of the grey colours found on most gulls.
They arenít commonly found on our coast and you wonít see many of them nesting or breeding here however they are frequent visitors and are often seen from the cliffs, foreshore and at a short distance out to sea. The only spot that Iíve seen them nesting over the course of a few successive years in the 1970ís was on the ďRam StoneĒ, a small islet halfway between Old Portlethen and Downies.
Black-Backed Gulls are mostly carnivorous and frequently hunt and kill any prey smaller than themselves, behaving more like a raptor than a typical gull, though they will also scavenge and will frequently rob other seabirds of their catch. They have been known to swallow a puffin or a small wild duck whole.
My best and closest observations of a Black Backed Gull have occurred when Iíve been out in the boat whilst gutting fish. When you are fishing in a boat Gulls sense that a potential feast is on the cards and soon you can have an audience of half a dozen or more Herring Gulls (and the occasional Fulmar) bobbing on the water near to the boat. When gutting commences those seabirds that have been waiting manage to feast on the starters however within seconds there will be a Flock of Seagulls (had to get that in for the benefit of 1980ís music lovers) all battling for food.
Suddenly there will be one or two Black Back-Backed Gulls on the scene and in their midst and when they arrive they tend to dominate proceedings by ensuring they get to the choicest fish guts first, or if they are beaten to them by a lesser gull they will give chase until the food is regurgitated or dropped.
Apparently this species breeds singly or in small colonies, making a lined nest on the ground which is often on top of a rocky stack and one to three eggs are laid. If they do breed regularly in our area then it is likely to happen north of Findon or south of Downies.