I cannot believe I have not written any articles about one of the more abundant species of birds found in our county. The seagull (which is a common misnomer for the many gulls we have around our lakes, ponds, fields, waste facilities and sometimes even bird feeders) is the bird to which I am referring.
Just how many different kinds of gulls are found in and around our county? According to data reported to the former Chautauqua County Birding Hotline, we have had 16 species identified. Due to the relative abundance of these birds in our area, I intend to make this a two-part article. Today I will focus on the more common gulls we can observe all year long and next week I will discuss some of the more unusual species that have been sighted in our region from time to time.
According to records kept by the Buffalo Ornithological Society, there have been 23 reported in the Western New York area and 31 different species recorded in Western New York, including the Rochester area and the adjacent province of Ontario. A large reason for the high number of gulls reported in that area is Niagara River along with the falls, which attracts many species. I have, on several occasions, studied that section and can only describe the fantastic sightings observed there.
Above, from left, are the most common gulls found in the area, including the Ring-billed Gull
While some individuals who visit our lakes might say they all look the same, they are very different and fascinating when you try to study and identify them. According to research data, gulls are widely abundant; they are relatively large compared to most local bird species, comparatively approachable, and are often slow flying. What makes the gull so fascinating is the number of plumages and characteristic behaviors they exhibit.
Over the years, I have studied gull patterns and learned a great deal about their mannerisms and plumage variances to feel somewhat comfortable with reporting this topic to you. Gulls are divided into juveniles, two-year birds, three-year birds, and four-year birds. This refers to the length of time it takes the bird to mature from chick to adult. One interesting characteristic of most gull species is that the female is usually larger than the male.
A caveat when sitting at the harbor or any lake is not to be confused with other species of gull, like birds such as the terns, cormorants, pigeons and, on occasion, large shorebirds. Gulls can even become more difficult to identify due to periodic molting, light conditions, distance of observation, and similarity of the individual species. Historical data from Chapman's research identified 23 species recorded in North America. I intend to begin with the most common gulls observed, based upon past hotline data. In next week's column, I will discuss five rarities that we have seen over the years.
Probably the most common gull we see along the Dunkirk beach area is the Ring-billed Gull. This bird, along with the larger Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull, represents, without a doubt, the most common. These three birds are all-year species.
The Ring-billed is fond of catching insects in flight as well as searching the shoreline for any aquatic insects that may be available. The Herring Gull is the larger relative of the Ring-billed. While we recognize the Herring Gull as one of our more frequently observed gulls in our county, there was a time when historical records report this bird as the most abundant winter gull along the middle and coastal Atlantic states. One of the great ornithologists of our time, William Brewster, said that the Great Black-backed Gulls were exceedingly noisy birds, especially when they sensed danger for their young.
As always, if you have photos or article suggestions, I encourage you to send them to me at 38 Elm St., Fredonia, NY 14063. When sending a photograph, please put your name and address on the back with a self-addressed envelope if you want the photo returned. If sending by e-mail, submit to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.