Newcastle is preparing to welcome members of a rare bird species to the centre of the city for their nesting season.

Each spring, hundreds of kittiwakes – a type of black-legged gull – arrive to nest around the River Tyne. The birds take up residence on structures like the Tyne Bridge, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and many other buildings around the Quayside.

This is extremely rare behaviour for the kittiwake as the species almost always nests on sea cliffs. The Tyne colony is recognised as being the furthest inland kittiwake colony in the world.

The kittiwake – a protected species in the UK – gets its name from the sound it makes, a shrill “kittee-wa-aaake!”

In 2017, over 2,500 of the birds were recorded nesting on the River Tyne, with 1,300 making their homes on the Tyne Bridge.

As the city prepares itself for the kittiwakes’ arrival, discussions have been underway involving Newcastle City Council, local businesses, partners and animal welfare charities.

During the last nesting season, a number of kittiwakes got accidently caught in netting designed to stop them nesting on certain buildings. Though most of these birds were rescued, a few could not be saved.

Through regular meetings, stakeholders – including the RSPB, the RSPCA, the Tyne Kittiwake Partnership and Northumbria Police – have been trying to learn the lessons from last time in order to minimise any risks to the birds.

The RSPB’s conservation officer for north east England, Helen Quayle, said, “The Tyne kittiwakes are an important part of our natural and cultural heritage.”

“Like many people, we were extremely concerned by the number of kittiwakes that became accidently caught in netting during the summer.”

“Over the past few months, we’ve been working hard to reduce the risk of this happening again next year by advising local businesses and the council on making their properties safer for kittiwakes ahead of their return next spring.”

All netting on buildings owned by Newcastle City Council – such as the Guildhall – will be taken down. Some of the netting on the Tyne Bridge will also be removed and the netting that remains will be repaired or replaced as necessary.

The netting on the council-owned buildings will be replaced with an electric deterrent. This system will deter the birds from nesting on such sites by giving them a small, harmless shock if they try to land.

This technology has already been installed on two quayside buildings and is in use on buildings all across Britain. All the evidence suggests it does no harm to birds.

The electrical system will not disrupt any nesting colonies as it is replacing an existing deterrent rather than attempting to remove a nesting site.

The council has also urged the owners of other buildings to carry out reviews of their deterrents. However, the council has no power to force them to use any particular methods or remove their existing ones.

A Newcastle City Council spokesperson said, “We are fortunate to have this colony of rare kittiwakes on the Quayside given the threat to the species globally and their presence needs careful and sympathetic management as a result.”

“It is pleasing to see so many different organisations come together to make sure these birds can nest safely at the Quayside while minimising their impact on listed buildings, residents and businesses in the area.”

If you see a bird – or any other animal – in distress, you can call the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.  

(Featured image courtesy of jtweedie1976, from Flickr Creative Commons.)

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