About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Photo Share: Ring-billed Gull

Hello! Perhaps you can help solve this mystery... Ever since late summer, I've seen certain birds fly over at sunset. Generally four in number, never more, they fly due south, most often high up, flapping steadily -- I've only seen one bird glide once, briefly. The only evenings I haven't seen them were the nights I had my camera ready for them...until tonight. Right on time, at 5:00.  

These pics were taken with a 500mm lens, and I'd estimate they were about a quarter mile away. The fourth bird was bringing up the rear. Their wings are long and thin, and curved. The pictures that follow are enlargements that I did everything I could to make clearer, but due to the distance and low light at their chosen flight time, I'm not sure I'll ever get better. It really looks like there's a black tip on the wings. The head is round, short neck, and the tail is fairly short and narrow.


To me, they look like some kind of gull. More than anything, it's their habit that has me baffled: Daily at sunset, flying high, flapping steadily, always traveling due south. (I assume the trip is reversed in the morning.) 

I sure would be thrilled if someone could come up with a positive ID and an explanation of the daily commute.

You can check out Cornell’s site on gulls at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/browse_tax/35/

There are more than 50 species of gulls worldwide, with many found hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean. Some live primarily inland, including the one I see most often in our parking lot, the ring-billed gull, which thrives in suburban settings around the United States.

For species like the ring-billed gull, a parking lot offers the chance of a food being left-behind and dumpsters filled with scraps. Mowed medias can also be a good source of invertebrates. Then an empty parking lot or a store’s roof offer a safe resting place between bouts of foraging where they can spot predators and take off easily.

I see more gull activity in the late summer too. Some gulls migrate further south but I see some that stay year-round in mid-Michigan. Your gulls must have a good foraging spot in the day and then go home to roost.

Ring-billed gulls are medium-sized gulls. The back and shoulders are pale bluish-gray, and the head is white. The wings are tipped in black with evident white spots, and the belly is whitish.

Ring-billed gulls have yellowish or greenish legs and feet. Their most distinctive feature is a sharply defined narrow black band that encircles the bill. Immature ring-billed gulls have different coloration than adults. First year birds are whitish with brown flecks and have very dark wing tips and tails. Second year birds are more like the adults, but have a black-tipped tail.

Their populations plummeted during the late nineteenth century, when humans encroached on the birds' nesting grounds and killed them for feathers to decorate hats. By the early 1900s many breeding sites were defunct. Protection under the 1917 Migratory Birds Convention Act (Canada) and 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (U.S.) helped bring the species back.

Now Ring-billed Gulls once again thrive across the United States and southern Canada, so numerous in some places that they are considered pests, fueled in part by the edible garbage available at open landfills.

Related Articles:
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull http://goo.gl/LvVwtv
- Crows taking over feeder http://goo.gl/RFocEY
- Let's all share Nature's bounty http://goo.gl/Q3rKPZ
- Filling Up on Fatty Foods http://bit.ly/tUElnw
- Squirrel attacks pumpkin http://goo.gl/K59XgR

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