This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the California gull.
It seems strange that a bird which we associate with water is honored as the state bird of Utah in the arid west. Legend has it that the crops of early Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley were being destroyed by a plague of katydids when California gulls returning to breed feasted on the insects and saved the crops.
We see these gulls in migration on Navajo Lake. Highly social birds, they are often found in the company of other gull species. Most of the population breeds on sparsely vegetated islands of inland lakes and rivers from northern Montana and North Dakota through western Canada to the Arctic. Birds too young to breed may remain along the Pacific coast, where most California gulls winter.
California gulls do not breed until the age of 4 and molt through several plumage variations as they grow. Breeding adults are medium-sized gulls with white head and body, have slate gray on the back and gray wings with black wingtips spotted with white. A red spot on the black-tipped bill is an identifying trait.
These birds will eat almost anything they can catch: fish, garbage, insects, small mammals and carrion. In pursuit of food, they run, fly or swim. Although they do not sing, they are vocal birds with calls identified as long, choking, warning and alarm.
Adaptability like that exhibited by the California gull is a requirement if bird species are to survive in landscapes dominated by humans.
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