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Posted by: atowhee | August 24, 2019

GULLS GET NO RESPECT

UPDATE: See bottom of blog for fine, new comedic take on the war of gull v. people.

Like starlings, like tree squirrels, like rats, many of the world’s gulls are successful, adaptable, omnipresent…and too often disrespected.  Oceans, lakes, marshes–all can support a local gull population.  Interestingly they are missing from most Pacific island groups because the gulls won’t go that far from the mainlands.  None in Hawaii.  None on Guam.

Click here for recent article summarizing some of what we know about their behavior.  Far stronger family values than a lot of public figures we could name.  

Their identification can be a puzzle even to people who’ve birded a long time.  When I was learning to ID birds and trying my best to know all my local species in San Francisco, I postponed even looking at winter gull flocks for years.  Too confusing.  Finally, I got my good friend and mentor, Dan Murphy, to take me out and teach me.  He patiently taught me how to tell one species from another.  Try to get past the plumage.  Head shape.  Beak size and shape.  Leg color.  Beak color.  Eye color–yellow on adult Ring-bills.  I made a chart–two year gulls, three year, four.  How the plumages change from one age to the next.  The abundant Western Gull breeds in Bay Area, and an individual gull will go through eighteen plumage phases before adulthood at four years.  And the species interbreed, creating even more confusing hybrids.  Up in Puget Sound area they what is locally known at the Olympic Gull,  hybrid of Glaucous-winged and Western and very common.  There are myriad tales of hybrids appearing on a  oft-birded beach and confusing experts.  Now only DNA testing can really solve the riddle of the non-specific gull hanging out with the ordinary local gulls.

Gulls are often avoided and overlooked by even experienced birders.  One of my favorite gull stories is related in the book The Complete Birder by Jack Connor.  He tells of Lyn Atherton and her husband who began watching gulls in Florida, on purpose, not just noting them as they birded.  She would go on her lunch hour and weekends to the local dump, which is often a great place for finding gulls and corvids.  [In Morocco, it was great for storks and kites.]  She and her husband began finding western species rare n Florida and expanding the list of gull species recorded in their state.  Why?  Up until 1982 nobody really paid much attention…just a bunch of gulls, even to fellow birders.
Then Connor closes out his section on the Atherton’s gullabilities with this exchange:ATHERTON ON GULLSHere is an excellent chart to help you with gulls often found in Oregon, put together by Bay Nature magazine:gull idClick here for look at cartoon that deals with “Guardian” newspaper article suggesting you can stare down the gull bent on stealing your picnic.

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