Nesting seabirds under the spotlight

Edinburgh scientists and BBC TV’s Springwatch have teamed up to enlist the public’s help in researching popular seabirds.

Biologists at the University are making an online appeal, hosted by Springwatch’s website, for people to record their observations of a breeding colony of gannets at Bass Rock.

Researchers hope to learn whether breeding gannets are affected by windy conditions when they nest.

Scientists hope enthusiastic birdwatchers will help their research by observing gannets via a live stream from solar-powered interactive live cameras provided by the Scottish Seabird Centre.

Changing conditions

We wonder whether the time they spend together is in some way linked to climate, because if the weather is harsh and foraging is hard work, then perhaps they can ill afford to spend time together.

Dr Sue LewisSchool of Biological Sciences

Scientists are interested to understand whether poor weather, caused by climate change, is leading nesting pairs to spend more time apart as they forage for food away from the nest.

During the breeding season, pairs of gannets take turns to either incubate their egg or protect their chick whilst their partner goes to sea to feed and bring back food.

Keen observers

Scientists hope that a public survey will enable them to gather valuable information on how much time birds spend together.

They especially need information on bird behaviour between dawn and 10am, and between 5pm and dusk, although the webcam is on all day and observations made at any time would be welcome.

Participants are asked to observe the colony and record when a bird arrives at its nest, which is easy to spot as they make a lot of noise when they greet one another.

Observers should keep watch until its partner leaves the nest, which is usually preceded by a display of pointing at the sky, and record the arrival time and departure time on survey monkey.

We’re very grateful for the public’s help in learning what gannets do during the breeding season. The birds are under enormous pressure to feed their hungry chicks at this time, and knowing more about how their behaviour interacts with the weather will help us begin to understand how they can cope with climate change.

Dr Sue LewisSchool of Biological Sciences