Audouin’s Gull Monitoring and Conservation in Cyprus
Larus audouinii, also known as Audouin’s Gull, is classified as ‘near threatened’ by Birdlife International due to its small population, limited range and vulnerability. Regions where the species have more than 20 nests are declaredas Important Bird Areas.
A group of Audouin’s Gulls on the shore
Although foraging grounds of Audouin’s Gull include the northwest coastlines of Africa during winter, its breeding grounds are almost entirely within the Mediterranean Region. Ebro Delta of Spain contains the largest colony; harbouring nearly 67% of itsbreeding population worldwide. Detailed information exists about the distribution, numbers and ecology of birds breeding in the Western Mediterranean Region, but we know little about their state in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus. Cyprus hosts the eastern most breeding population known to this date. The only consistent breeding region in the island is the Kleides Islands off the Cape Andreas in North Cyprus.
An Audouin’s Gull during flight
Kleides Islands are not only a significant breeding region for the Audouin’s Gull but also for the endangered subspecies of Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis desmarestii which is an endemic species to the Mediterranean. Besides, the Islands are also used by the Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis for breeding purposes. As a result, Kleides Islands has been declared as an Important Bird Area since 2004.
Since 2008, KUŞKOR has organised an annual census of birds breeding on the islands, and has observed the changes that the colonies of Audouin’s Gull have been experiencing in particular. Historically, >40 pairs bred at the site but this has steadily fallen and in 2015 we recorded the lowest numbers at a mere 8 pairs. A clear warning that the future of the species on our island is in grave danger. The loss of this colony would represent a significant range contraction.
Warning sign placed by KUŞKOR
The most apparent reason for this decline is likely human disturbance by rod-fisherman using the islands. As the islands are small, even stepping on them can flush the birds and cause them to desert their nests. In the light of this, in 2014 KUŞKOR campaigned with the Turkish Cypriot authorities, and landing on the islands without a permit has now been banned within local law. In accordance, KUŞKOR has in collaboration with the relevant authorities, placed three warning signs at the most intensively used places in the region and at boat landing sites to provide information about the ban.
Tour around the gull islands
Further threats could also be influencing a decline in this colony including resource competition, kleptoparasitism, and direct predation from Yellow Legged Gulls which share the islands. The islands are also likely ratted which could be contributing to reduced breeding success. Overfishing of prey may also be a factor. Further studies are urgently required to quantify these threats and to draw up a management plan for the islands towards preventing the extinction of the species as a breeding bird of Cyprus.