Jun 25, 2018
by Lisa Hug
By Lisa Hug
We all like to go to the beach on a hot summer’s day. We also associate a day at the beach with the presence of “seagulls.” When I was a child growing up in Ohio my family would occasionally go to Lake Erie in the summer. I always felt like I was in a really exotic place because I was surrounded by ‘seagulls.”
I say “seagull” in quotes because there really is no such thing as a “seagull.” There are lots of different kinds of gulls – just gulls, without the “sea.” In fact any time we go to the beach, we may encounter any one of about 10 different kinds of gulls in this area. We have California Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls, and evenIceland Gulls. But the real characters of the Central California Coast are theWestern Gulls.
Sure, these gulls can be annoying. They can steal foods from your picnic table when you are not looking. They can leave unsightly droppings on your car –seemingly always right in the center of your windshield. And, they can be very noisy. But, what would a trip to the beach be without all the gulls around? I know I would be bored without them.
Western Gulls are characterized by their very large size. Their back is very dark gray and their legs are bright pink. Their light brown eyes are encircled with thin, red, eye rings. Most of the other kinds of gulls that visit our area are smaller and lighter gray.
Western Gulls typically live about 13 years, and start breeding when they are about 5 years old. Most birds will mate for life. In early spring, the males strut around their territories with their heads held high, advertising their personal boundaries boldly and loudly. This will attract his mate, and together they will choose a nest site, usually on a large offshore rock or sea stack.” They choose their nest site by walking around gagging in different places. If they both gag in the same spot, this is where they decide to build the nest. The female lays 2 or 3 eggs in this nest. Both the male and female will brood the eggs and the young chicks for several weeks. The speckled eggs are camouflaged in the nest. The chicks are also camouflaged against their rocky environment with speckling.
As these chicks grow, they get too big to sit passively in the nest. They trample it to shreds as they compete for food and flap their wings to strengthen them for flight. They often will play together with chicks from surrounding nests. They will play “tug-of-war” with sticks that they find, toss feathers around and chase each other about. Play is a sign of intelligence, and these gulls are very smart. They recognize human faces. Biologists that studied Western Gulls on the Farallon Islands in the 1970s and 1980s found that they could get gulls to react differently to them, by wearing different masks in their presence.
In Bodega Harbor, each channel marker will have its own nest. The Western Gulls choose sea stacks offshore and channel markers as nesting sites to protect the chicks from predators. If they nested on the mainland, they would be vulnerable to coyotes, bobcats, foxes and other predators.
The next time you go to the ocean in the summer, check out the Western Gull nests on all the rocks offshore. They are very amusing. They are easiest to observe from Bodega Head.
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