Adapted from the Isle Of May National Nature Reserve, Expedition Pack (SNH)
- To look at adaptations as a means of reducing competition between seabirds
- To understand what makes a place a good habitat for seabirds
1 hour or more
You will need
- telescope (optional)
- notebooks and pencils
- Plastic bags to sit on and to keep notebooks dry
- Seabird city worksheets and answer sheet (see downloads)
Did you know?
National Nature Reserves (NNRs) like Noss, Staffa and the Isle of May are home to hundreds of thousands of seabirds like puffins, fulmars, terns, guillemots and eider ducks. School groups are welcomed and often can be supported or guided by reserve staff. See 'Where to go' for more information.
Before the activity
Find out from the reserve staff (or your local ranger if not visiting a NNR) where to go to best observe the seabirds at your chosen destination. Find out which 10 or so birds you are most likely to see and get the class to do a little research on these birds. After this, test their knowledge by holding up pictures or photographs of these birds and getting them to shout out the name and volunteer a little information about each one.
Practice using the binoculars and the telescope.
Explain that many seabirds spend most of their lives living far out at sea. Discuss why seabirds would return to the land during the summer months (they need to breed and incubate eggs and cannot do that out at sea). What are they in danger from when they return to the land (predators such as mink, rats, cats, foxes, dogs). They also, very importantly, need to have a good food supply close at hand so that they don't have to fly too far from the nest to find food (the longer they are away from the nest, the more vulnerable from predation and cold are the eggs and chicks). Suitable places to breed are in short supply and so the best places tend to attract a lot of seabirds. Although it's a bit crowded, its also an advantage for the seabirds, how? (There is a large number of birds to watch out for predators and defend the nest area). Competition for nest sites in prime sites has lead to different bird species adapting different strategies for living in the crowded seabird city.
After the introduction take the group out to good vantage points for watching the birds, or follow a route which will take you past nesting birds and colonies of different species. Get the children to make notes or talk about what the birds are doing, whether they are feeding, carrying nest material, sitting on eggs, drying their wings or just lounging about. Which species have chicks, which are alarmed by the presence of people or predatory birds (like great black-backed gulls or great skuas)? The groups can try to be as observant as possible about where exactly the birds are nesting, what the nests are made of, how close the birds nest to other birds, how many eggs they have and what their feet and bills look like.
Get the children to make notes and sketches in note books and they can use the worksheet Seabird City (see downloads) as a guide for collecting and recording information. Take photographs if possible
Use the pointers on the worksheet Seabird City as a guide for a discussion / feedback session on your return. Ask for suggestions to explain why:
- Many of the seabirds only have 1 or 2 eggs
- The guillemot egg is pointed at one end
- Puffins dig burrows instead of nesting on a ledge
- Shags have more eggs than other cliff birds
- The flotsam which shags add to their nests can be a danger to them and their chicks
Discuss what makes the place you visited a good habitat for seabirds (nesting sites, access to food and protection from predators). Summarise the ways in which the different bird species have adapted so that they are not all competing for the same nest sites and the same food source and therefore lots of different seabirds can squash in together into seabird city. This gives the added benefit that there are more eyes on the look out for predators, more to sound the alarm and more to 'mob' predators.
Suggested Follow up
Design a rocky cliff wall frieze complete with all the species of birds seen, their nests and eggs, perhaps even a predator or two about!
Write habitat adverts for the property page in the 'Seabird City Observer'. Let each group or pupil chose a seabird and then write an advert seeking or offering accommodation. The adverts could also contain illustrations or photos of the 'property'. The theme could continue by creating a class issue of the Seabird City Observer, with news articles, advice page, letters and sport pages
- Seabird city - worksheet
- Seabird city - answer sheet
- Seabird factfiles from the Isle of May Expedition Pack (SNH production)
- RSPB bird guide
- BTO bird guide