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Read by David

Whilst seabirds are predators themselves, some of them are also prey. The size, speed and power of our seabirds determine whether or not they are prey to other species’, but there is one time in their lives when all seabirds are potential prey – in the nest.

Seabird eggs and chicks are relatively easy prey for land predators, such as foxes, stoats and weasels, or aerial predators such as peregrines and crows. As mentioned in our habitats topic Alderney does not have land mammals like foxes and badgers, but it does have rats and feral cats. Rats can run along cliffs and take eggs or young chicks from seabird nests, so seabirds nest in areas where rats aren’t present whenever possible. Aerial predators, birds, are harder to avoid so seabirds nest together to look like a more difficult target to the likes of peregrines.

Peregrine falcons are capable of taking eggs and small chicks of seabirds

Peregrine falcons are capable of taking eggs and small chicks of seabirds

Rats can run across cliff faces and take eggs out of nests

Rats can run across cliff faces and take eggs out of nests

Gannets, like on Ortac, nest in large colonies to avoid predators

Gannets, like on Ortac, nest in large colonies to avoid predators

Once they get older and larger the gannets can protect themselves due to their size and power. But many of our other seabirds are not so formidable. Storm petrels are only sparrow sized birds and are therefore targets for skuas and gulls. To avoid them as much as possible storm petrels only return to their nests at night when the predators are asleep, and during the day they spend all their time on the water where they can fly away.

Great skua

Great skua

Skuas are large predators, the great skua has a wingspan of 125-140cm and can predate anything from storm petrels and puffins to larger species such as kittiwakes. But we are fortunate in Alderney that we do not have skuas near our seabirds as they breed much further north in Scotland, Iceland and Scandinavia.

Kittiwakes are a member of the gull family

Kittiwakes are a member of the gull family

Of course all these predators are all types of wildlife (even though the rats and cats are invasive species!). But the biggest predator of seabirds through history has been humans. The great auk, a relative of puffins, was hunted to extinction by humans in the mid-19th century.

The great auk is an extinct relative of puffins

Great auk

Looking like a cross between guillemots and razorbills, but larger, this bird was hunted easily as it was actually flightless – it had taken the next step to becoming an aquatic bird, like penguins, and it is very unfortunate that none of us will ever get the chance to see them. Other seabird species, including puffins, were also hunted for food and oil and their eggs taken for food until these actions were banned in many places. But even today some regions still eat seabirds.

Puffin hunting in 1890's

Puffin hunting in 1890's

ECOLOGIST'S UPDATE

Whilst conducting her seabird foraging observations last Sunday Vicky was lucky enough to see a pod of 16 bottlenose dolphins! They only pass by Alderney a few times a year, feeding on our fish stocks as they go past, so seeing them is certainly a treat. Vicky even managed to get this footage so that you could all see what she saw as well.

Bottlenose Dolphins (18.05.14)