Coastal birds

The Sussex coastline has some great spots for coastal bird-watching.  From Kingfishers to Kittiwakes, you will find an abundance of beautiful coastal bird life right on your doorstep. Lynn Beun from the RSPB Brighton & District Local Group has chosen her top six.

There’s no such thing as a seagull!

Lynn Beun, Leader, RSPB Brighton & District Local Group

“There’s no such thing as a seagull”. I was taught this when I started birdwatching. What! you say? Yes, there are different types of gulls and they have different names. I will tell you about three gulls and two of my other favourite coastal birds that you can spot in Sussex. This is just my personal selection, which ones would you choose?

No. 1 Herring Gull

No. 1 Herring Gull
In the Number One spot it has to be – the Herring Gull! I always think they have a mean ...
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No. 2 Kittiwake

No. 2 Kittiwake
If Herring gulls have a mean glint in their eye, I think that the little kittiwake looks sweet and gentle ...
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No. 3 Cormorant

No. 3 Cormorant
Want to see a prehistoric looking bird? I think you should look no further than the cormorant! Cormorants have an ...
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No. 4 Black Headed Gull

No. 4 Black Headed Gull
Black headed gulls are handsome birds with – not black heads in fact but a dark brown hood. Take a ...
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No. 5 Oystercatcher

No. 5 Oystercatcher
Another colourful bird with a bright red beak and red legs is the Oystercatcher. You may see little groups of ...
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No. 6 Turnstone

No. 6 Turnstone
Close to Brighton Marina or in Shoreham you may see the little aptly named Turnstone, running along the water’s edge ...
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Seen any exciting coastal bird sightings in Sussex? Have you got any tips on bird-spotting you would like to share? Let us know in the comments box below.

Hotspots for Coastal Birds

Use our map below to discover hotspots in our area and some of the key species to look out for.

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Spotlight on…

Below are our latest articles exploring birds in Brighton in further detail. This week Kerrie Curzon has written an article on why the Kittiwake colony at Splash Point is thriving and take a walk along the Brighton coastline with Lynn Beun from the RSPB Brighton & District Local group.

Kittiwakes at Seaford Head in a changing climate

Kittiwakes at Seaford Head in a changing climate

Edward Thomas Booth notes in his catalogue from June, 1867 that kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) are common. They are currently the ...
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Spotting birds along Brighton's seashore

Spotting birds along Brighton’s seashore

Written by Lynn Beun, Leader, RSPB Brighton & District Local Group Living in this area we are very lucky, and ...
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Kittiwakes at Seaford Head in a changing climate

Edward Thomas Booth notes in his catalogue from June, 1867 that kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) are common. They are currently the most numerous gull species in the UK; however, they are now in serious decline. Since 2000 black-legged kittiwake numbers have declined by more than half.

Black-legged kittiwake in Rørvik, Norway, by Becky Matsubara from El Sobrante, California CC BY 2.0

Booth’s entry about the summer kittiwake diorama discusses the Sea-Bird Preservation Act that protected the birds. In Booth’s opinion:

‘the senseless slaughter that took place round their breeding-stations every summer having been allowed to continue too long without interference.’

The Sea Bird Preservation Act of 1869 was the first in the country to protect birds. It prevented people from killing seabirds and collecting their eggs from April to August so that they could breed. The main motivation for this was not for the protection of the birds themselves, but to aid sailors who relied on healthy seabird populations to find land in foggy conditions.

Illustration of Kittiwakes, female and young, by Edward Neale from Rough Notes on birds in the British Islands by Edward Thomas Booth.

As a collector of birds, Booth’s following sentence contains no sense of irony at his killing of these birds: ‘The specimens in this case were obtained at the Bass Rock in June, 1867.’ The winter kittiwake diorama contains adults in winter plumage and juveniles that were ‘shot a few miles off Brighton, in the winter of 1870.’

The black-legged kittiwakes joined the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species in 2018. Current threats to kittiwakes are associated with their prey, sand-eels and herring which are in decline, due to the effects of climate change. This impacts the prey the sand-eels feed on and the breeding season of the herring, which no longer coincides with the kittiwake breeding season. This results in lower breeding success for the kittiwakes.

Kittiwakes at Seaford Head copyright Andy Hay, courtesy of RSPB Brighton & District Local Group

Despite the downward trend of many populations of kittiwakes, the colony at Seaford Head in Sussex continues to thrive. Seaford Head to Beachy Head is designated as an area of Special Scientific Interest and Seaford Head Nature Reserve is part managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust and the National Trust. There are over 1000 nests in the kittiwake colony. No one knows exactly why they are doing better than other colonies around the UK. A possible explanation is that prey species are also faring better in the South East. However, this may change as sea temperatures are expected to rise faster along the south coast bringing more unpredictable changes for the kittiwakes and their associated marine ecosystem.

Written by Kerrie Curzon, Collections Assistant, The Booth Museum of Natural History 

Marine fossils

Sussex covered by an ancient sea

Did you know that 100 million years ago the whole of the UK was covered by a warm ocean? Only the tops of the Scottish mountains would have poked above sea-level.

How do we know this? What lived in this warm shallow sea covering Sussex? How does it compare to now? We can use the Booth Museum’s important collection of fossils from the Cretaceous period to find out more.

Marine creatures

Marine creatures
Explore our fossils to see what animals lived in our seas around 100 million years ...
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Sussex: an ancient sea bed

Sussex: an ancient sea bed
How do we know that Sussex was covered by a warm sea? The answer lies ...
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