“Seagull” isn’t accurate

October 18, 2016 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - Oklahoma, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Oklahoma, Photography, Wildlife)

From my MeadowLarking column in the Fort Sill Tribune.

FORT SILL, Okla. Feb. 18, 2016 — To a serious birder (birder is to birdwatcher as Trekker is to Trekkie — a more respectable version) there is no such thing as a “seagull.” Even serious birders have to break a habit learned in childhood, or from watching the movie “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” With Oklahoma hundreds of miles from any ocean, it seems reasonable that not all gulls would be “sea” gulls.

They are at minimum, simply “gulls.” Birders, however, generally want to know what species of gull they are looking at. Identification is harder in winter because gulls tend to ditch their distinctive breeding plumage and take on a drab wardrobe. To make matters worse, winter feather colors can vary within a particular species depending on the age of the gull. For the more casual birder, it’s not worth the hassle.

Uber-birders, on the other hand, examine in excruciating detail the Sibley or Peterson’s field guides to separate a winter gull species from other similarly nondescript gulls. Other gulls have characteristics that make the ID easy.

Take the ring-billed gull. It’s the only gull in these parts that has a ring around its bill, so even in winter it is easily identified. A first-year youngster, however, has a black-tipped bill. It can really get confusing.

Ring-billed gulls have been seen at Lawton’s Elmer Thomas Park where they frequently join the geese in hopeful anticipation of a handout from visitors. Ring-billed and herring gulls are the two species Oklahomans are likely to see in winter, and both breed elsewhere in summer, often nowhere near the ocean.

As the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website states, “Many Ring-billed Gulls lead inland lives, never setting eyes on the sea.”

seagulls-2-18-16

Double click on the image a couple of times to read it bigger.

All photographs copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

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Contact:  cindy at cindymcintyre.com

 

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