The seabird colony at Cowbar Nab

Close up of a herring gull with the sea in the background

There's nothing quite like visiting a seabird colony in Spring. Cowbar Nab, in Staithes, is a great place to get up close and personal with a whole range of different birds that come here to breed every spring. Enjoy the sights, sounds and, oh yes, the smells!

Herring Gull

These rowdy gulls are found around the coast all year and provide the soundtrack to any visit to the seaside. Despite their name you're more likely to see them scavenging from bins or stealing your chips than eating a freshly caught herring.
Cowbar Nab is an important breeding ground for herring gulls. They nest on the top of Cowbar Nab, rather than on rocky ledges. Look out for a large gull with a pale grey back, black wing tips with white spots and pink legs.


Kittiwakes make up the majority of the birds that nest on the rocky ledges of Cowbar Nab. They get their name from their 'kii-kii-vaak' call that they make regularly and with gusto. You will only see them between March and August. The rest of the year they spend out at sea.
Look out for a medium sized gull with a pale grey back and solid black wing tips. It is often described as a mild looking bird and has black legs. Don't forget to listen out for its distinctive call.


On the ledges among the kittiwakes you can spot fulmars. Although at a glance they might look like gulls, they are actually petrols and are closely related to albatrosses. Don't try climbing up to their nests. They defend them by spitting out a foul smelling oil. They start returning to breeding sites in February and head back out to sea in August.
Fulmars have grey wings and white underparts. They have a prominent nasal tube on the top of their bills.


Arguably the smartest of the birds you can find at Cowbar Nab is the razorbill. They are unmistakable in their black and white plumage. More adapted to chasing fish underwater than flying, they are most easily seen as they frantically flap their wings as they head out from the cliffs to the sea. Look out for them between March and July.

House Martin

They might not be a bird you'd expect to see in a sea bird colony but house martins return to breed at Cowbar Nab every year between May and August.
All house martins would have once built their nests on the underside of rocky overhangs before people offered an alternative with the eaves of buildings. Look out for these speedy little black and white birds with white rumps as they whizz in and out of their mud nests.