Every Bird Matters
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Posts Tagged ‘gulls’

March 21, 2017

Know Your Gulls: A Very Basic Guide To Identifying Our Local Gulls

By Joanna Chin

Anyone can identify a gull, but did you know that there are over 50 species of gulls worldwide? And do you know which gull species live near you, and how to tell them apart?

March is Gull Month at International Bird Rescue, and we think a good way to celebrate this month is to learn how to identify some of our local gull species! We’re going to look only at adult plumage here, since all gulls have juvenile plumages that can make identification tricky for even the most experienced of birders. We’ll start with the basics of five gull species in California.

Please note that there are more than five species of gulls in the state, but the ones we’re going to concentrate on are some of the more common and distinctive. If you are interested in more gull information, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has wonderful information on the family Laridae (which includes gulls and their close relatives, terns and skimmers)!

Western Gull

Female Western Gull does the “head-toss” motion to signal to her mate. Photo by Byron Chin

The Western Gull is one of the most common gull species on the California coast. It is a large gull with a fairly dark gray back, black primaries (the feathers at the tips of the wings), pink feet, a yellow orbital ring (the narrow ring of flesh around the eye), and a sturdy yellow bill with a bright red spot on the mandible (lower half of the bill) called the gonydeal spot. This red dot serves a special purpose: It’s a target that the gull chicks peck at to entice the adult to regurgitate food for them. Although very common along the coast, Western Gulls are rarely seen more than two miles inland. These gulls do not migrate, and their appearance does not change during breeding season.

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull is lighter grey than Western. Photo by Byron Chin

The Glaucous-winged Gull looks a lot like the Western Gull until you look carefully! For one thing, the Glaucous-winged Gull’s back is a much lighter gray. Also, this gull has no black at all—the primaries (wingtips) are the same light gray as its back— and both its legs and its orbital ring are pink. Like the Western Gull, The Glaucous-winged Gull has a yellow bill with a red gonydeal spot. These birds breed along the northern Pacific Coast but head down the coast in the wintertime. You will often see them with some brown speckling on their head in the winter (something you’ll never see on a Western Gull). But just to make things complicated, Glaucous-winged Gulls hybridize with Western Gulls, producing a gull that looks somewhat like each of them! This happens frequently enough that these hybrids, which are common on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, have their own name: the Olympic Gull.

California Gull

California Gull tends to be smaller than the Western or Glaucous-winged. Photo by Byron Chin

The California Gull travels farther inland than either the Western or Glaucous-winged Gull. It tends to hang out in parking lots, as well as near the coast. It is smaller than the Western or Glaucous-winged and has a medium-gray back with black primaries, yellow-green legs, and a red orbital ring. Its eye is very dark (much darker, in fact, than the Ring-billed Gull I’ll discuss in a moment), it has a red gonydeal spot on the mandible of its bill, and it has a black ring near the tip of its bill. The corners of its mouth turn downward a bit, giving it a distinctive “frowning” expression! Like the Glaucous-winged Gull, the California Gull has brown speckling on its head in winter.

Ring-billed Gull

A Ring-billed Gull and a dozen cohorts. Photo by Byron Chin

The Ring-billed Gull lives in California during the winter (non-breeding) season and migrates to the northern U.S. and Canada during the summer to breed. It is just slightly smaller than the California Gull and has a medium-gray back, black primaries, bright yellow legs, and a red orbital ring. It also has bright yellow irises, giving the Ring-billed Gull a very “beady-eyed” appearance. Its bill is yellow with a thick black ring around it, and there is no red whatsoever. In winter, when this gull is in California, it has the brown speckling on its head. Like the California Gull, the Ring-billed Gull is found on the coast, as well as farther inland and in parking lots.

Heermann’s Gull

Heermann’s Gull takes flight in Monterey, CA. Photo by Byron Chin

The Heermann’s Gull is unlike any other gull you’ll find in California. It winters in the state but migrates to Isla Rasa, a small island in the Sea of Cortez near Baja, California, every summer to breed. In breeding plumage, the Heermann’s Gull’s back is dark gray, the remainder of its body is light gray, its primaries are black, and its head is pure white. It has black legs, a red orbital ring, and a red bill with a black tip. In the winter, when this gull returns from breeding, its head is heavily speckled with gray. Heermann’s Gulls are known to employ a feeding strategy called kleptoparasitism, which means they steal food from other birds, most commonly the Brown Pelican. Sometimes they are seen landing on a pelican’s head and reaching right into its pouch to steal fish! The Heermann’s Gull is, unfortunately, quite susceptible to climate change. Because it nests almost exclusively on a small island in the Pacific Ocean, events such as El Niño and “the Blob” (an unusually large mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean) can reduce the supply of food and influence breeding success. In fact, the Heermann’s Gull has had near total breeding failure for the past two years. Conservation efforts and swift action to slow climate change are critical to preserving this gorgeous species.

Share Your Gull Photos

Do you have a good picture of a gull, tern, jaeger, or a skimmer to share? Submit your photos to gulls@bird-rescue.org, including your name, the species and where the photo was taken, and you may see your photo soon on our social media.

Keep an eye on our Facebook page for more beautiful photos of gulls, terns, jaegers, and skimmers!

 

December 11, 2010

Success! Another beer can collared gull rescued

A rescue team from WildRescue and IBRRC captured another beer can collared gull today in San Francisco. The gull had the can removed from its neck and was released.

This is the third bird captured with a cut beer can secured to its neck. This gull was captured at San Francisco State University. The can was removed and the bird had only minor feather damage to its neck. The gull was released quickly back to the wild.

There have been multiple sightings of birds flying around with these neck collars. A $6,500 reward for information leading to an arrest has been in place since November. One bird was rescued last month at Lake Merced and another in Half Moon Bay.

“This is a federal crime punishable by severe fines, imprisonment, or both,” says Rebecca Dmytryk, with WildRescue, the group spearheading this effort. The US Fish & Wildlife Services, who administrate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act under which this act is punishable, has been alerted to these incidents.

WildRescue asks that instead of attempting to capture the birds, which can make them more wary and harder to catch, sightings should be reported immediately by calling (831) 429-2323 or emailing rescue@wildrescue.org.

Media report:

Gull freed of beer-can collar – more need help: San Francisco Chronicle

November 19, 2010

Public’s help still needed to locate injured gulls

The public is being urged by rescuers to keep an eye out for the remaining beer-can-collared gulls in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Recent sightings of the adult and juvenile Western gulls have come in from Bolinas Lagoon to San Francisco’s Fishermen’s Wharf to SF State University out near Lake Merced. The bird (top, right) is a second year juvenile Western Gull photographed on November 17th at San Francisco State University in the southwestern area of the city.

Like most wild birds, they are understandably wary of approach. If you see one of these birds please send or call in details – Time, Date, location, and a pic if possible – phoning (831) 429-2323 and/or emailing rescue@wildrescue.org. Two organizations are collaborating on this effort, International Bird Rescue (Fairfield) and WildRescue (Monterey).

The reward has been raised to $6,100 for the arrest and conviction of the person(s) who collared the gulls.

Earlier this week a team from WildRescue successfully captured one gull at Lake Merced and removed the beer can from it’s neck. Video of the gull rescue is on YouTube

See more information here: http://wildrescues.blogspot.com/

November 17, 2010

Reward raised to $6,100 for info on collared gulls

As the search continues for other beer can collared birds in the San Francisco Bay Area, the reward has been raised to $6,100 for the arrest and conviction of the person(s) who collared the gulls.

Thanks to a generous $5,000 pledge from the California Beer and Beverage Distributors (CBBD), the reward will help to focus more attention in stopping the prankster (s) from collaring anymore birds. The CBBD is a nonprofit representing 100 beer distributors and brewer/vendor members in California.

Earlier this week one of the gulls was captured by a team from WildRescue and the beer can removed from its neck. It was caught at Lake Merced in San Francisco. See video below

November 16, 2010

One beer can collared gull finally rescued!

This week rescuers captured a beer can collared gull in San Francisco. The WildRescue team caught the bird at Lake Merced out near the San Francisco Zoo and removed the aluminum beer can from the bird’s neck.

Experts believe that someone is maliciously catching gulls (seagulls) and collaring them with cut beer cans. Thanks to reports by members of the public and birders, sightings have come in from San Francisco (Pier 39 and another juvenile gull at Lake Merced), Half Moon Bay and various locations around the Bay Area.

The two organizations collaborating on this effort, International Bird Rescue (Fairfield) and WildRescue (Monterey), are seeking the public’s help is locating other birds. They ask that instead off attempting to capture the birds, which can make them more wary and harder to catch, sightings should be reported immediately by calling (831) 429-2323 or emailing rescue@wildrescue.org.

“This is a federal crime punishable by severe fines, imprisonment, or both,” says Rebecca Dmytryk, with WildRescue, one of the groups spearheading this effort. The US Fish & Wildlife Services, who administrate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act under which this act is punishable, has been alerted to these incidents.

Birds were first spotted by the public in August around San Francisco.

November 4, 2010

Who’s collaring Bay Area gulls with beer cans?

It has been confirmed by wildlife experts that someone is maliciously catching gulls (seagulls) and collaring them with cut beer cans. Thanks to reports by members of the public and birders, sightings have come in from San Francisco (Pier 39 and another juvenile gull at Lake Merced), Half Moon Bay and various locations around the Bay Area.

The two organizations collaborating on this effort, International Bird Rescue (Fairfield) and WildRescue (Monterey), are seeking the public’s help is locating the birds. They ask that instead off attempting to capture the birds, which can make them more wary and harder to catch, sightings should be reported immediately by calling (831) 429-2323 or emailing rescue@wildrescue.org.

“This is a federal crime punishable by severe fines, imprisonment, or both,” says Rebecca Dmytryk, with WildRescue, one of the groups spearheading this effort. The US Fish & Wildlife Services, who administrate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act under which this act is punishable, has been alerted to these incidents.

Through an anonymous donor, a $1,000.00 reward being is being offered for the arrest and prosecution of the person or persons committing these crimes. Anyone interested in adding to the reward should contact either organization.

Both organizations are recruiting members for their search and rescue efforts. Anyone interested in receiving training and volunteering as a rescuer should contact them through their websites: www.ibrrc.org or www.wildrescue.org

Media report

Bay Area birds found with jagged beer cans around their necks: MercuryNews.com

(Top photo courtesy of Don Battle)

January 15, 2008

Seagulls as biomonitors for oil spill pollution

What are the long term affects to marine environments after oil spills? Scientists from Spain hope that the blood of Yellow-legged gulls will give them a better picture.

Researchers measured the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) levels in the gulls exposed to oil during the aftermath of the 2002 Prestige oil spill off the coast of Spain, one of Europe’s largest such disasters. The PAH levels they found were twice that of unexposed birds – even though the exposed birds were tested more than 17 months after the spill.

While PAH compounds have also been linked to cancer in humans, experts are zeroing in on gulls to see what happens long term to marine animals. The work focused on the ecological

Alberto Velando, a researcher at the Universidade de Vigo in Spain, and his team detailed their findings in the upcoming issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The study is called “Monitoring Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Pollution in Marine Environment after the Prestige Oil Spill by Means of Seabird Blood Analysis.”

Read more about the study at Science Daily