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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 November 2005, 07:33 GMT
No laughing matter for lost gulls
Laughing gull, picture courtesy of Lyndon Lomax
Who's not laughing any more? Laughing gull in Pembroke Dock
A dozen gulls expecting to spend the winter basking in the Gulf of Mexico now face a chilly few weeks in Wales after being blown off course.

About 12 laughing gulls have been spotted on the Welsh coast in the last three weeks, probably pushed east by Hurricane Wilma in the Caribbean.

The RSPB said it was "totally unprecedented" to see so many in Wales.

They can be distinguished from native black-headed gulls by their black beaks and distinctive laughing call.

No threat

The first laughing gulls were spotted on 4 November in Pembrokeshire and parts of south Wales. More than 50 have been seen in the UK as a whole.

The birds have not been seen in Wales since 1988.

Alan Davies, RSPB site manager in Conwy, said the birds were migrating south down the eastern seaboard of the United States when they were blown off course.

"With the jet stream it's easier for them to fly east than go back west," he said.

Mr Davies told the BBC News website the gulls were unlikely to pose a threat to Wales' native species.

"They're quite similar to be honest. Their feeding habits are the same and they are about the same size as our black-headed gulls.

'Maniacal' laugh

"Their most obvious feature is a much darker grey back and a longer bill - and the bill is black as opposed to red.

"And the call of course, which is a rather maniacal laughing call."

He said gulls were quite sociable birds, so it was unlikely they would feel lonely soaring above the shores of Wales rather than Mexico - though the climate would be rather different.

Amateur bird watcher David Astins, from Pembrokeshire, said it was possible more laughing gulls could appear in Wales in the next few years

He said: "I think hurricane in the Caribbean seem to be on the increase overall, so we may see more in future years.

"In 20 to 30 years time we may even see laughing gulls breeding on this side of the Atlantic."

Black-headed gull, picture courtesy of Lyndon Lomax
Native black-headed gulls have a red beak

Mr Astins said the birds were likely to spend some time "re-orientating" themselves before flying south - possibly to Africa.

"Quite where they will end up nobody knows - but it's unlikely they will go back to the United States," he added.

Mr Davies told the BBC a pair of laughing gulls - possibly bored and annoyed at having their summer holiday ruined - could meet up and breed, but said it was a "long shot".

He added: "There's one now in north Wales, in Porthmadog harbour, and one in Pembroke Dock.

"If you want to go and see one - take a loaf of bread."


SEE ALSO:
Rare gull takes refuge from storm
12 Jan 05 |  Gloucestershire
Far flung bird pops up on island
12 Oct 04 |  Scotland
Battle to save exhausted birds
17 Sep 04 |  South West Wales


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