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Starving seabirds hit by climate change?
Posted: 18 Sep 2006

Reports of hundreds of dead or starving young seabirds around Scotland - including some many miles from the coast - and Northern Ireland are leading to speculation among experts that these incidents may be linked to climate change.

Staff from several organisations, including the RSPB, are assessing the extent of the situation. Most of the casualties are guillemots – a type of seabird. Post mortems on the birds shown that many of the birds are underweight and have empty stomachs, suggesting they are suffering from a chronic shortage of food. Sandeels are a principal prey for guillemots and many other seabirds.

Starving guillemot
Starving guillemot: climate change may have caused food chain collapse. Credit: RSPB

Dr Euan Dunn, head of marine policy for the RSPB, said: “Able to dive 300 feet for fish prey, guillemots are massively buffered against scarcity, so evidence of starvation signals a desperate lack of food. Food shortage has reared its ugly head in a number of guillemot colonies in recent years, but the breadth and scale of these reports of starving birds is more troubling.”

Counts of seabird colonies around Scotland and in Northern Ireland have revealed that they have had another disastrous year with food shortages leading to a low recruitment of young birds.

Commenting on the potential impacts of climate change affecting UK seabirds, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, Dr Mark Avery, said: “The seas surrounding the British Isles are among the most productive in the world and, despite decades of overfishing, they still support internationally important seabird colonies. But, seabirds are facing key threats as life-giving cold-water-loving plankton shift, taking the foundation of the foodchain with them. Distressing images of seabirds failing to find enough sandeels to feed their chicks is an early warning sign of worse to come.”

So far there have been reports of nearly 100 dead or dying guillemots in Northern Ireland, principally washed up on the shores of South Down, and around 120 guillemots in the Loch Fyne area of western Scotland. Several guillemots have also been reported from highly unusual inland locations, including the centre of Glasgow, Crianlarich and Loch Awe. Some birds have been reported swimming up small burns, presumably in a desperate attempt to find food.

Source: RSPB. See:

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