Saturday 26 October 2019

The pigeon-killing Lesser Black-Backed Gull stood in his usual place on the edge of the lake. He is in winter plumage with a grey-streaked head, but still looking very smart.

He trotted towards a bunch of Feral Pigeons on the shore, which retreated before him. He never catches anything in this way, and both he and the pigeons know it.

But it was a feint, and he suddenly darted out to the right, grabbed an unsuspecting pigeon on the edge of the water, and dragged it in to kill it by biting through its spinal cord.  I was expecting this as little as the pigeon was, which is why I only got the camera running after he had struck.

Warning: this video is pretty gruesome.

Once he had made sure that his victim was dead, he hauled it out of the water and up the kerb so that he could peck at it more effectively. The watching Carrion Crow wasn't going to get a chance of a scrap.

A few bits of bread thrown in the water by a visitor are enough to set off a major feeding frenzy. Most of the gulls in the park are Black-Headed Gulls, and there are also plenty of Herring Gulls, most of them young birds. Lesser Black-Backed Gulls and Common Gulls are fewer, and none of them appear here.

This pigeon being eaten by a Carrion Crow at the leaf yard was not a victim of the gull. It had been killed by a Sparrowhawk, as shown by a circle of plucked feathers on the grass around it.

This area is thronged with pigeons because it is where people feed the Rose-Ringed Parakeets, and both pigeons and crows come in to pick up scraps. The pair of Sparrowhawks that hunt in the park are well aware of this, and pigeon kills are frequent here.

On to less violent things. This Coal Tit in the shrubbery in the Rose Garden is now so used to me filling up the bird feeder that it waits on a twig only a few feet away, and flies in as soon as I have finished.

The Moorhens who nested under the boat platform have brought up three chicks, now fully grown and beginning to get their adult red beaks.

The hybrid duck turned up at Peter Pan, the first time I've seen her since March.

She is a Pochard x Tufted Duck cross, the size and shape of a female Pochard but the colour of a Tufted Duck, with unusual marmalade-coloured eyes intermediate between the brown of a female Pochard and the yellow of both sexes of Tufted Duck. The white patch at the base of her bill is something that some female Tufted Ducks have, but usually to a lesser extent. It leads to her often being mistaken for a female Scaup.

Here for comparison is a female Tufted Duck. Females have a tuft on their head, but shorter than the one on a drake.

It takes quite a long time for Tufted drakes to get the pure white sides of their breeding plumage. This one is almost there.

All three dark Mallard drakes were out on the Serpentine. These two are certainly brothers. For years they have been inseparable, and never seem to show any interest in females.

The third one has always kept apart from the other two, and acquired a mate the year before last.

Tom was at Rainham Marshes, where he got a picture of a Cetti's Warbler. There are as many as 50 Cettis at Rainham, but that doesn't make these famously elusive birds any easier to photograph.


  1. Cettis are easy to hear, but very difficult to see, and even more difficult to catch on camera. Congratulations to Tom!

    I admire Pigeon Killer's efficiency and technique, but... damn.

    I don't know which will produce weirder results, hybridation of ducks or hybridation of gulls.

    1. The Anatidae have a greater tolerance of hybrids and weirder results than perhaps any other family, though the more distant crosses may be sterile.

  2. The efficiency of the LBB Gull is amazing. I think his victim was a fairly young bird. Assuming he kills at least one pigeon a day that is some tally over a year. Combine that with Sparrowhawk kills- that's a lot of pigeons, yet such is their reproductive ability, seems to make no dent in the population level.

    1. Between them (and with occasional help from the Peregrines) they must be taking something like the park's total population of pigeons every year. But numbers never fall.

    2. I wonder if the numbers stay constant because of movement from other places or because the park's own birds can reproduce enough to keep replacing them.

    3. Mainly the former, I think. Not many pigeon nesting places in the park, but they breed like fury in abandoned buildings.

    4. There might not be a straightforward definition of the park's pigeons, as I don't suppose there are many nest sites for them in the park and pigeons aren't averse to commuting to good feeding places anyway. Though many will be the same day after day. Jim

    5. They won't be the same after our gull has given them his best attention.