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Gull Watch!

Gulls or what non birders call "sea gulls" or "sky rats" are often viewed poorly, overlooked, or though of as "trashy". They do hang out at dumps, waste water treatment facilities, dirty beaches, or even on beautiful beaches trying to steal snacks from kids or unattended picnic baskets. But they are only eating what us humans discard or call waste. Is it their fault that humans pile old food, solid wastes, and other edible garbage in high concentrations? They are only taking advantage of the extreme mess's we create. Gulls are actually quite fascinating animals and we should all learn more about them to give them the respect that they deserve.

Some species of gulls are honestly quite beautiful. But to identify one gull species from another can be extremely challenging. There are gulls with black heads, gulls with black backs, gulls that are mostly all white, gulls that are small, gulls that are large, and medium sized gulls with pale gray backs. Now any one of these species can look like another depending on age and the time of year. It can be very frustrating and challenging to pick out one species from the next. World wide there are 54 different species (not counting terns), more than 30 of those can be seen in North America, and more than 15 can be found in Michigan. In Mason County this year, we have recorded seeing Ring-billed, Herring, Bonaparte, Laughing, Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-back, Iceland, and Glaucus. That's 9 different species in less than 6 months! Some of these gull species are great world wide travelers too! While some gulls will stay where they can find food all year long, others will travel from southern South America to the Arctic circle. When it's not breeding season, gulls are pretty nomadic. They travel from here to there looking for food, or they are lost from high winds from an arctic blast. You never know what rare species you will see when out looking at birds. That's the fun of them, and that's the fun thing about living on or near the Great Lakes. Gulls will mistake these massive bodies of water for oceans and wind up way out of their range. So, the point of this blog is to remind birders to not overlook large flocks of gulls, carefully comb through them, and try to find something that is different. It takes a lot of practice, patience, and time, but it's a great way to get your life list a bit bigger!

Below are pictures of Gulls that I, Sawyer Dawe have taken this year. They are not all in Mason or Oceana counties, but they are all in Michigan!

Lesser Black-back Gull and a Herring Gull @ Ludington South Pier

  • Note the dark back and yellow legs of the LBBG

  • Note the pink legs legs of the Herring.

2nd Cycle Lesser Black-back Gull @ Ludington South Pier

  • Note the pale yellow legs, darker back, and almost all black bill.

Adult Laughing Gull @ LSP

  • Note the large red bill, dark red legs, and partial eye ring

Herring Gull @ Ludington Marina

  • Note the overall large in size and pink legs.

Glaucus Gull @ Muskegon Dump

  • Note the overall large size, White primaries, Large bill, and pink legs

Iceland Gull @ Muskegon Wastewater Treatment Plant

  • Note the all white primaries, not bulky bill, Primaries longer than tail, and overall smaller in size (can't tell in this picture) and little to no streaking.

Adult Non breeding Bonaparts Gull @ Ludington Waste Water Plant

  • Note the all black bill, black wing tips, dark ear spot and reddish/pink legs

Adult Non Breeding Little Gull @ Linwood boat launch (Bay County)

  • Note large ear spot, dark along the wings all the way to the wing tips, black bill, more of a black cap. Much smaller than Bonaparte gulls.

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