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Gulls
Nature Bulletin No. 212-A   January 8, 1966
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

GULLS
In Salt Lake City there is a tall granite column topped by a sphere on which, as if alighting, are the gilded bronze figures of two gulls -- the state bird of Utah -- a monument to the great flocks of these birds which, in 1848 saved the Mormon settlers from starvation by consuming hordes of short-winged grasshoppers, the "Mormon cricket", which were devouring their crops.

The gull is a master of the air; a symbol for graceful perfection of flight. Riding the winds, gulls frequently cross the Atlantic Ocean, following ships. Its long narrow wings enable it to take advantage of any air current. It can fly forward, hang motionless against the wind, drift backward, bank and veer in any direction, glide in long graceful curves, or dart downward like an arrow. Usually, although there may be hundreds in the air, they appear to fly as individuals each intent on its own business of finding food, averting collisions by narrow margins or scrambling and fighting for some tidbit. Gulls float upon water and can swim well, but rarely dive for food. When they rise, with beating wings and backward kicks of their webbed feet, the legs and feet dangle for a few seconds and then are tucked back beneath the body and tail -- like retractable landing-gear.

In the Chicago region, because of storms or lack of food, large widely scattered flocks of gulls frequently fly with slow rhythmic wingbeats from Lake Michigan to the great garbage dumps, or the Sanitary and Ship Canal, or to inland waters and cultivated fields. Occasionally, in late afternoon, these flocks may be seen very high in the air, soaring in wide loops and circles that drift with the wind toward the lake.

Our common species of gulls are scavengers, which accounts for their great numbers in the polluted waters of rivers and harbors near large cities. For this reason, and because they also visit fields and farmlands to feed on injurious insects, gulls are now protected by law. The Migratory Bird Treaty saved them from extinction, as it saved the egrets and other birds formerly slaughtered in their nesting colonies, for their plumage .

A gull's bill, hooked at the tip, is adapted for tearing the flesh of fish and other prey, and their natural food includes shellfish and the small fishes which frequently swim in vast numbers near the surface. Along the Coast of Maine, flocks of gulls follow every fishing boat; and at low tide they feed upon the mussels clinging to the rocks exposed along shores, A gull will seize a mussel, rise high in the air, drop it upon the rocks, and then swoop down to devour the flesh inside the broken shell.

There are several species of gulls but only three are common around Chicago. Most widely distributed and most common here is the Herring Gull which when adult, has a white head, tail and underparts, gray back and wings, black wing tips and flesh-colored feet and legs. The young birds are much different, being dusky brown the first year and mottled the second year. The Ring-billed Gull, slightly smaller, but with similar plumage, may be distinguished by black ring around its bill, yellowish-green feet and legs, and white spots on the black wing tips. Bonaparte's Gull, smallest and most graceful of American gulls, has a white body, gray back, white wings fringed with black, red legs, and can be recognized by the fact that it not only is much smaller but the bill, face and fore half of the head are black. These three kinds nest in colonies much farther north, but many of the immature birds are year-round residents, and the adults return in autumn.

A gull is greedy but not gullible.


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