Measurements of the rates of population increase, reproduction, and mortality together with an observed age ratio, were used to analyze the population of the Herring Gull in New England. Data from sporadic censuses prior to this study, aerial censuses by the authors, and National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count indicated that the New England breeding population has been doubling every 12 to 15 years since the early 1900's. This increase has involved founding new colonies and expanding the breeding range There is evidence that 15 to 30% of the adults do not breed in any given year. Sixty-one productivity measurements on 43 islands from 1963 through 1966, involving almost 13,000 nests, showed that from 0.8 to 1.4 young/breeding pair/year is the usual range of rate of production. The age distribution in the population was determined by classifying Herring Gulls by plumage category on an aerial census of the coast from Tampico, Mexico, to Cape Sable, Nova Scotia. Of the 622,000 gulls observed, 68% were adults, 17% were second- and third-year birds, and 15% were first-year birds. Mortality rates derived from band recovery data were too high to be consistent with the observed rate of population growth, productivity, and age structure. Loss of bands increasing to the rate of about 20%/year 5 years after banding eliminates most of the discrepancy. The age structure and rate of population increase indicate a mortality rate of 4 to 9% for gulls 2 years old or older, compared with the 25 to 30% indicated by band recoveries. The population structure we have developed fits everything we have observed about Herring Gull population dynamics, except mortality based on band recoveries.
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Structure of the New England herring gull population