Gower is famous for its birdlife. The limestone cliffs between Rhossili and Port Eynon are designated as part of the Gower Coast National Nature Reserve. The land is owned by the National Trust and managed by the Trust and Natural Resources Wales. Many different species of bird can be spotted along coastline: nesting on the cliffs or further inland in the scrub, gorse and old quarries.
Guillemots and razorbills spend most of their lives at sea but come to the Gower coastline during the breeding season in June and July. They nest on the cliffs at Worm’s Head long enough to breed and raise their young. Fulmars and shags can also be found in the National Nature Reserve but their numbers are much lower than guillemots and razorbills. Gulls used to be more abundant along the cliffs; their numbers have declined in recent years. Kittiwakes also breed and rear their chicks at one or two locations on the cliffs during spring and summer and their nests can usually only be seen from the sea. They are highly adaptable birds and have made Mumbles Pier their home, occupying its artificial ledges with their nests.
Peregrine falcons can be found on the limestone cliffs between Oxwich and Rhossili. This is a species of conservation concern, so their presence in the area is important and highlights the nature conservation value of Gower. Peregrines are the fastest animal in the world and when diving after prey can reach an impressive 200 miles per hour!
One bird in particular represents a significant success story for nature conservation in Gower: the red-billed chough. The chough population on Gower was eradicated during the 1800s by local shooting activity. Since the early 1990s the local population has begun to re-establish from other populations in Pembrokeshire and their numbers are increasing. Choughs are a member of the corvid (crow) family and are attractive-looking birds. Their long red beaks and red legs are quite striking and their call is very distinctive. They tend to nest on the cliffs and can be found feeding on the cliff tops, using their long beaks to forage and dig for food.
The dartford warbler has only started to make its home on Gower since the start of the millennium. It is assumed that warmer temperatures, particularly milder winters, have enabled Britain’s only native warbler to move to more northerly sites away from the south coast of England, which has been its traditional home. They have been spotted along the south coastline of Gower at sites including Worm’s Head, Rhossili Down, Tears Point, Mewslade, Ramsgrove, Paviland and Horton. Their populations are monitored to help conservationists understand how they are establishing and spreading on Gower.
Oystercatchers are a common sight along the coastline and can be found, at low tide, feeding in places such as Overton Mere. Despite their name, they do not eat oysters and favour mussels or cockles. Their love of cockles mean that they were once shot in great numbers because they were regarded as a threat to the local cockle industry.
Along with the peregrine, many other birds of prey can be found on Gower. Inland, hen harriers can be spotted during winter. There are roosting sites in areas such as Llanrhidian and they have been sighted hunting at Rhossili Down and Cefn Bryn.
The red kite is unofficially known as the national bird for Wales because it was their last remaining stronghold when the species was near extinction. The world’s longest running protection programme has saved them from dying out and led to their reintroduction to England and Scotland. Sightings of red kites on Gower remain rare but are increasing. They seem to be mainly concentrated in north Gower but there have been sightings in the south west and even over the centre of Swansea.
Many birds make their home in local woodlands, such as Nicholaston Woods, where you can find sparrowhawks, buzzards and woodpeckers. Ilston Valley, Kilvrough Manor Woods and Redden Hill are great places for bird-watching. Species nesting in the woodland include chiffchaff, robin, great tit, tree creeper and willow warbler. During winter, large flocks of wintering finches can often be seen along with reed buntings, woodcocks and even occasional siskins.