Spying on Rooftops

- 3 mins read

Urban nesting gulls obviously have preferences when choosing a location to raise their family. Undoubtedly there are many factors at play – vicinity to food, exposure to the elements, location of other nearby gull nests – and certainly factors that are invisible to terrestrially-bound primates.

Nesting somewhere difficult for predators to access is vital, so if you want to find gull nests you’re going to need to get above the rooftops. The easiest way to do that is to go walking on bridges.

View from Granville Street Bridge off-ramp

View from Granville Street Bridge off-ramp

Above is a photo of the off-ramp from the Granville Street Bridge. It’s not a pedestrian-friendly bridge, clearly built before city planners took pedestrians seriously. The sidewalks are narrow, have no guardrails between pedestrians and traffic, and the curb drops around a foot.

Despite their distance and inaccessibility, the adult gulls always take note of me when I stop and photograph. Our local Glaucous-winged Gulls (Larus Glauscens) have grown accustomed to coexisting with humans within our urban environment, yet they maintain a cautious wariness towards us. I am always conscious that I’m intruding on their private lives, and generally don’t spend more than a few minutes observing a nest. Avian parents, including gulls, must invest additional energy in caring for and nourishing their young. Any unnecessary stress or disruption to their routines only compounds the already demanding nature of their daily tasks. Please remember this if you’re observing any birds - with young or without.

Here in Vancouver, we’ve got three bridges connecting the downtown core to the rest of the city. These are where I do almost all of my nest monitoring from. The Granville Street Bridge is by far the most rewarding with seven nests within 100-150 feet of the bridge, and three more visible on the top of the Burrard Street Bridge to the northwest.

Vancouver Bridges on OpenStreetMap

Vancouver Bridges on OpenStreetMap

Undoubtedly, there are likely additional nests in the vicinity of my route that remain unknown to me. Some may be situated too high for me to see, while others may be tucked away in inaccessible areas to which I don’t have a line of sight. However, by observing the behaviour of the gulls, I can sometimes make a guess about the concealed nest locations.

If you’re interested in spotting some gull chicks, now is the time to grab a pair of binoculars and head out for a walk on your local bridges. If you live on a coast, chances are you’ll spot some gulls nesting on a rooftop within your city. Even inland, you may be able to find Ring-billed Gulls nesting.

Coincidentally, a new episode of Birdnote about urban nesting gulls was released recently – listen here.

Until next time.