Audouin’s Gull in Senegal (part II)

(in case you missed the first part, you may want to read this post first)

Ring recoveries

Thanks to the important research and conservation efforts targeting Audouin’s Gull, a substantial proportion of the population carry colour-rings, to the extent that in any given group one encounters here in Senegal (and elsewhere of course), there are bound to be some ringed birds, usually up to around 15% of all birds. As far as I know this is far more than for any other species that spends the winter here in Senegal; only Black-tailed Godwit comes close (often 5-10%) and maybe Osprey. For instance at Palmarin last month I managed to read 32 rings out of a total of ca. 400 birds, out of which some 200-250 were either close enough to read rings, or were standing (rather than sitting, in which case rings aren’t visible). That’s roughly 13 to 16% of individuals carrying coded rings!

The first mention that I found of a colour-ring recovery is from Delaporte & Dubois (1990) who on 26/1/88 at Saint-Louis observed a bird ringed as a chick in spring 1981 on the Chafarinas islands. Del Nevo and colleagues also noted that many of the birds they counted were ringed, e.g. on 30/9/92, no less than 24 (14%) of 167 birds were ringed: 18 had a darvic [=plastic ring with alphanumerical code] and six had a metal ring only. In 1994 in Palmarin, a Scandinavian team were able to read 16 colour-ringed birds from Spain (out of at least 456; Bengtsson 1994), while Sauvage & Rodwell mention nine colour-ringed birds originating from Spain, in Saint-Louis. The Dutch 1997 expedition managed to read nine rings, out of the 858 gulls that they counted, noting that “these birds presumably all originated from the Ebro Delta, Spain” (and certainly not from the Canary Islands as stated by Triplet 2014! The species doesn’t even breed there… not sure where this error originated).

The rings (or “bands” for our American friends) are either white with a black inscription (3 or 4 alphanumerical characters), or blue with a white 4 character code, and can often be read with a telescope or a good camera. White rings are used in Spain (starting with letters A, B, C or a number) and Italy (I or K), while blue rings are in use in Portugal (with first character P). French birds have a combination starting with F (since 2013; prior to this Italian rings were used); Moroccan ones with M.  The images below show an Italian and two Spanish birds (“BDCT” appears twice, photographed in Aug. 2016 and Sept. 2017).


Origin of wintering birds in Senegal

I now have close to 50 ring “recoveries” related to 44 birds, most of which are from Palmarin (39), the others being from Technopole. Adding other sightings in Senegal of these same birds (mostly by Ngoné Diop), we have a total of 103 recoveries.

Here’s a quick summary of their origin:

  • As can be expected, the vast majority are from Spain, particularly from the Ebro delta which accounts for about a third of all birds for which I know the origin (15 out of 44). Six are from Valencia (PN de l’Albufera, Salinas de Torrevieja), three from Tarragona (Salinas de Sant Antoni), three from the tiny Isla de Alboran between Morocco and Spain, and two each from the Balearic islands (Mallorca and Menorca), from Murcia (Parque Regional San Pedro del Pinatar and Isla Grosa), the Laguna de la Mata in Alicante, and the Chafarinas islands.
  • Six birds are from Portugal, but I’m still awaiting information for full details of the five most recent birds (all from Palamarin early September); thanks to Ngoné I know that at least four birds (and likely all six) originate from the colony on Ilha da Barreta (the southernmost tip of the country, near Faro).
  • Earlier this month I found my first Italian gulls at Palmarin, three adults (ICTD, ILBJ and K7T). I have not yet received details from the ringing scheme, other than that K7T was ringed in 1998 – so far my oldest bird! Ngoné kindly provided me with info for ICTD and ILBJ as these were already known to her, which allowed me to include Cagliari (Sardinia) and Isola del Giglio on the map below; I will add further info here when it becomes available [Olly Fox kindly informed me that K7T was seen at the Kartong Bird Observatory in The Gambia in November 2016; it was born on Isola dei Cavoli off southern Sardinia].



At least one Corsican bird has been found in The Gambia (Recorbet et al. 2011) and Ngoné has recorded a few French birds in Palmarin. One can assume that some Moroccan birds may also winter in Senegal, and maybe Algerian and Tunisian birds as well. Not quite sure where the Eastern Mediterranean populations spend the winter, but I read that at least some remain around their breeding grounds.

Here’s an example of the “life history” of one of our oldest birds¹, 45P from Spain, pictured in the header image of this post. It was ringed as a chick in 1999 on the Chafarinas islands, and was seen in The Gambia during the 2004/05, 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2011/12 winters, then in October 2014, October 2015, and September 2017 it was spotted in Palmarin (plus a few times on its native island, in April-June). Could it be that many Audouin’s Gulls spend the initial 4-5 months of the non-breeding cycle in Senegal, then move to The Gambia for the remaining 2-3 months of the northern winter?


Age composition

The age composition of our wintering Audouin’s Gulls varies considerably between areas and apparently also through the season. This was first documented by del Nevo et al.: “Adult birds dominated both surveys and proportionately more adults than first year birds were present during September 1992 than in February 1991. Our observations are consistent with the view that adult Audouin’s Gulls tend to arrive in Senegambia before first year birds; the ratios of first year to adult were 0.1:1 in September and 0.54:1 during February.” Delaporte & Dubois reported an overall proportion of 15% of immatures. These ratios have likely changed now, at least in terms of the seasonality now that some immatures can spend their first summer in the region. Ngoné and colleagues reported estimates of 278 adults and 167 immatures (= 37,5%) in Palmarin for the 2013-2015 period. They also found that adults, 3rd and 2nd winter birds arrive earlier than 1st winter birds, a difference which “is probably due to differences in experience among age classes.”

The differences in “immature-to-adult” ratio between Palmarin and Technopole are striking, and I wish I knew what causes this. Immatures are by far outnumbering adults at Technopole, as opposed to the high proportion (70-80%?) of adults further south, particularly in the Saloum delta. Interestingly, this may not have always been the case: Oro & Martinez mention that juveniles winter further south than older 2-3y gulls, in the Senegambia region: “After the breeding season, 2-3y and older gulls were recovered mainly at the E and S Iberian Peninsula coasts. During the winter season these gulls moved southwards, especially to the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Juveniles behaved differently, moving further south than 2-3y and 4y or older gulls, reaching the Senegambia coast in high percentages (81,8%).” Is it possible that this was at a time when a new generation of young birds was in process of establishing an overwintering tradition in Senegal and The Gambia, returning in subsequent winters? That would explain why there are currently more adults than juveniles.

Two ringed individuals show how birds wintering in Senegal will typically spend their first year around the Cap-Vert peninsula, before moving on to the Saloum delta once they are older: BNH5 was ringed as a chick in June 2011 in the Ebro delta, after which it was seen at Technopole in July 2012, but during its third winter in Dec. 2013 (N. Diop), and again in Sept. 2017, it was in the Palmarin lagoons. AWNV, born in 2010 in Mallorca, was first at Technopole while in its second summer (July 2012), while in 2015 and 2016 it was in Palmarin. Some birds already move to Palmarin during their 2nd winter (e.g. BWU9), or even 1st winter (BPZ9, seen by Simon in January 2013, then by Ngoné in December of the same year and in Oct. 2015, and last month I saw it again. Talk about site fidelity!

All ringed birds recovered from Technopole were at most two years old, though of course there are some older birds and every now and then a full adult will show up. BYPB is a typical first-year bird, seen here in March 2017.


Audouin’s, Lesser Black-backed, Yellow-legged & Slender-billed Gulls


Among the ringed birds that I have found there are quite a few old individuals, the oldest being nearly 20 years old. Indeed, Audouin’s Gull is a long-lived species with a high adult survival rate (and relatively low fertility). The oldest bird I have is from Italy, at 19 years, while from Spain there’s 45P and 66P, both born in 1999; Ngoné had already seen both in 2014 and 2015 in Palmarin; 45P and was again at Palmarin earlier this month, while I saw 66P there last year at the end of August last year.


66P, seen here in a rather unflattering position in August 2016 at Palmarin, was ringed as a chick in June 1999 in the Ebro colony


The little chart below shows the distribution by age at the time of the last sighting, for 43 birds for which I have the ringing year (birds are typically ringed as chicks, usually in June, so we know their precise age). One can clearly see the predominance of birds in their first year (= juveniles and 1st winter), though this is hardly surprising given that these all correspond to Technopole recoveries. I don’t know how to explain the near-absence of two- and three-year old birds.

AudouinsGull - Age graph

Ngoné’s systematic visits to Palmarin have resulted in some 500 ring readings, which of course allow for a more thorough analysis than my anecdotal observations. Through modeling the team has estimated annual survival rates and the size of the wintering population in Palmarin, which are summarised in this informative  poster presented at PAOC just about a year ago. There are of course also a few interesting individual stories in the lot, such as two Spanish birds that were ringed on the 15th and the 19th of June 2015 respectively, and that were seen within a few weeks after they left their colony (25/8/15 and 15/9/15).

To be continued…


Many thanks to Ngoné Diop for her input!


¹ The oldest bird we have is “FDA”, ringed as a chick in June 1988 (!) at Islas Columbretes, Castellon, and seen in 2015 and 2017 in Palmarin, and in Dec. 2017 in The Gambia.



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