Blog Archive: Gulls

Birdorable Ross's Gull

Gulls Named For People

February 3rd, 2015 in Gulls No comments

This week, we're celebrating the gulls of the world! Join us as we highlight these social and intelligent birds. Today we're talking about how some gulls got their common names.

Of the approximately 55 recognized species of gull in the world, at least 12 of them take their common name from an historical figure. So just what does it take for a person to have a gull named after him?

Audouin's Gull is found around the Mediterranean and northwestern Africa. The species was named for the French naturalist Jean Victoire Audouin. Besides birds, Audouin also studied insects, reptiles, and mollusks. In addition to the gull, he had a fungus, Microsporum audouinii, named after him.

Belcher's Gull, also known as the Band-tailed Gull, is found on the Pacific side of South America. This species was named for the British naval officer and explorer Admiral Sir Edward Belcher. The Admiral traveled to and surveyed the habitat of his future namesake gull early in his career.

Charles Lucien Bonaparte with Birdorable Bonapart's gull

Bonaparte's Gull is a small species of gull found across parts of North America. The gull was named for the French biologist and ornithologist Charles Lucien Jules Laurent Bonaparte. The scientist was the nephew of Emperor Napoleon. On his voyage to the United States in the 1820s, he discovered the first specimen of what would come to be called Wilson's Storm Petrel.

John Franklin with Birdorable Franklin's Gull

Franklin's Gull is a small "black-headed" gull that breeds across parts of North America and winters in the Caribbean and South America. It was named for the British Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin. The first specimen of the Franklin's Gull was collected on his 1823 expedition to the Arctic.

Hartlaub's Gull, also known as the King Gull, is found along the Atlantic coast of southern Africa. The bird was named for the German physician and ornithologist Karel Johnan Gustav Hartlaub. Hartlaub's Bustard and Hartlaub's Duck are also named for this German scientist.

Heermann's Gull is found on the Pacific coast of North America. This striking species was named after the American explorer and naturalist Adolphus Lewis Heermann. During a three-year expedition to the west coast of North America in the 1840s, Heermann collected over 1200 bird study skins.

Heuglin's Gull is a migratory species that breeds across tundra in Russia and elsewhere and winters in Southwest Asia, India, and Africa. The gull was named for German explorer and ornithologist Theodor von Heuglin. Heuglin's Wheatear is also named for the German adventurer.

Kumlien's Gull is a subspecies of the Thayer's Gull. The name comes from Swedish-American ornithologist, naturalist, and taxidermist Thure Kumlien. Kumlien settled in Milwaukee after moving to the United States and made significant contributions to the knowledge of Wisconsin's natural history. Kumlien was also a known authority on birds' nests and an early member of the American Ornithologits's Union.

Nelson's Gull isn't a species, but the result of the hybridization between a Herring Gull and a Glaucous Gull. The informal name given to this offspring was named for the American naturalist Edward William Nelson, who was the first to describe the bird.

Olrog's Gull is found along the Atlantic coast in parts of South America. This gull was named for the Swedish-Argentine biologist Claes C. Olrog, who also has his name on the Olrog's Cinclodes (a type of songbird), Olrog's Chaco Mouse, and Olrog's Four-eyed Opossum.

Pallas's Gull, also known as the Great Black-headed Gull, is a large species that breeds in parts of Russia and Mongolia. The species was named for the German zoologist and botanist Peter Simon Pallas. He described many species for science and has several others named after him, including Pallas's Cat, Pallas's Cormorant, and Pallas's Rosefinch.

James Clark Ross with Birdorable Ross's Gull

Ross's Gull is a small species that breeds in the high Arctic and Siberia. The gull was named for the British naval officer and explorer James Clark Ross. The Ross Seal, a moon crater, and the James Ross Strait are just a few of the other honorary names given in tribute of James Clark Ross.

General Sir Edward Sabine with Birdorable Sabine's Gull

Sabine's Gull is a small species that breeds in the Arctic. It is also called the Fork-tailed Gull or the Xeme. The species was named for the Irish scientist Sir Edward Sabine. Sabine had a wide range of interests and is known for his research on the magnetic field of the Earth as well as his study of Greenland's birds. The Sabine's Puffback, a songbird, and the Sabine's Spinetail, a swift, are both also named for the scientist.

Saunders's Gull, also known as the Chinese Black-headed Gull, is an Asian species of gull. The bird was named for the British ornithologist Howard Saunders. The Saunders's Tern is also named after the scientist. Before developing a keen interest in gulls and terns, Saunders studied the birds of Spain.

Thayer's Gull is a North American species. It was named for the amateur ornothologist John Eliot Thayer. Thayer brought early attention to the problems native species suffer when non-native predators are introduced. Thayer's Gull was first collected during an expedition to Alaska in 1913.

Birdorable Glaucous Gull

Gull Glossary

February 2nd, 2015 in Gulls No comments

This week, we're celebrating the gulls of the world! Join us as we highlight these social and intelligent birds! Today we're sharing some keywords that pertain to gulls. This gull glossary also includes definitions that apply to other bird families, but are important topics to understand when studying gulls.

Carnivore
An animal that eats mostly other animals is said to be a carnivore. Gulls are carnivores that feed opportunistically in a variety of ways.

Cosmopolitan
If the range of a species covers much of the world, it is said to be cosmopolitan. In mammals, the Killer Whale is cosmopolitan because it is found in nearly all of the world's oceans. The gull family is cosmopolitan; gulls are found all over the world.

Exocrine Glands
Exocrine glands secrete matter via a duct. There are a variety of exocrine glands in different animals, including sweat glands that excrete sweat, and salivary glands that excrete saliva. Gulls have special exocrine glands that excrete salt, allowing them to drink from salt water as well as fresh water.

Hybridization
The taxonomy of gulls is complicated, and scientists make new discoveries on the relationships between species and subspecies all the time. Hybridization between closely-related species occurs on a regular basis. For example, Herring Gulls and Glaucous Gulls are known to interbreed in Greenland and Iceland. The offspring are known as "Nelson's Gull."

Birdorable Herring Gull and Glaucous Gull in love

Kleptoparasitism
The act of feeding be stealing food or prey from another is called kleptoparasitism -- literally parasitism by theft. Gulls feed in many different ways, including this method. They may steal fish caught by other birds that are able to dive deeper under the water than gulls are able.

Mobbing
When threatened by a predator or intruder, birds like gulls may work together to drive out the danger. This behavior is known as mobbing and may include vocalizations and movements meant to remove the danger. Birds that breed colonially, as gulls do, will often work together to keep all of the nests in the colony safe.

Monogamous
Gulls stay with their mates for life. While many bird species have monogamous relationships during breeding season, gulls will remain a mated pair season after season, for the life of the birds.

Opportunisitc Feeding
Gulls are able to survive and thrive in a variety of habitats and circumstances. Part of their success is their ability to feed opportunistically. Gulls are able to take advantage of available food sources in the moment; they are able to "improvise" a meal from almost anything edible. Opportunistic feeding is advantageous to a species that may face changes in its environment. An opposite feeding strategy, specialization, means that a species needs specific circumstances to be true in order to eat.

Pair-Bonding
When the breeding season begins, mated pairs re-establish or strengthen the relationship through different rituals. These rituals are known as pair-bonding. In gulls, this may involve special calls or vocalizations, sometimes accompanied by walking together or dancing, and nest-building.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)
Ring-billed Gulls dancing together (photo by Amy Evenstad)

Precocial
When a just-hatched baby bird is relatively advanced, it is considered precocial. Gulls have precocial young; the birds hatch covered in feathers and they are able to stand, walk, and feed themselves within a short amount of time. Birds that are the opposite of precocial, altricial, hatch nearly featherless and completely helpless, often with their eyes closed. They rely on their parents for everything until they are mature enough to start moving about on their own and care for themselves.

Birdorable Ring-billed Gull

We're Celebrating Gulls This Week!

February 1st, 2015 in Gulls No comments

Welcome to Birdorable's first ever Gull Week! We're happy to celebrate gulls, a widespread family of social and intelligent seabirds. So far, we've got 21 species of gull in our cute cartoon style, out of the approximately 55 recognized species of gull in the world.

To start things off, here's a look back at some previous gull posts from our blog.

Birdorable Ivory Gull

Gulls are cosmopolitan, meaning they can be found all over the world. Sometimes a gull may be found outside of its regular range, like an Ivory Gull that was seen in New Jersey some years ago. Ivory Gulls normally spend their time in the arctic.

Gulls generally nest in large colonies, like the Herring Gull which was featured as a Baby Birdorable.

Birdorable Heermann's Gulls

We've featured the beautiful Heermann's Gull, the common Ring-billed Gull, and the large Great Black-backed Gull on the blog as well. That last species has the honor of being the official city bird of Rauma, Finland.

We told you about the official state bird of Utah, which is actually named after another state: the California Gull.

Birdorable California Gull

Some birds in the family don't go by the name "gull" at all; the Black-legged Kittiwake is one.

Join us as this week continues with our celebration of the world's gulls!

Birdorable Ring-billed Gull

2014 Bonanza Bird #6: Ring-billed Gull

November 21st, 2014 in Birdorable Bonanza 2014, Gulls, New Birds 3 comments

The 6th bird in our 2014 Bonanza is a familiar species of gull. It's the Ring-billed Gull!

Birdorable Ring-billed Gull

The Ring-billed Gull is a "white-headed" medium-sized species of gull found across much of North America. In fact, it may be North America's most common gull. They nest near bodies of fresh or marine water in colonial groups.

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull by Amy Evenstad

Ring-billed Gulls are known for their skilled flying ability. They can be fast, graceful and agile on the wing. Ring-billed Gulls are even known to steal food from other birds -- in flight! They will practice this skill by playing with an object while in the air, dropping the object, and then swooping down to pick it up again. In non-breeding season, Ring-billed Gulls may roost and forage together in very large flocks, sometimes with other gulls. Ring-billeds seem to like their personal space: they will often stand evenly spaced, keeping at least 1 to 2 meters between each bird. The Ring-billed Gull joins Birdorable today, bringing our total number of bird species to 564. Our Bonanza concludes tomorrow with a striking bird of southeast Asia that also has "bill" in its name. Can you guess tomorrow's species?

Bonanza2014Preview7
Birdorable Great Black-backed Gull

City Bird: Rauma's Great Black-backed Gull

May 24th, 2012 in Gulls, City Birds 5 comments

Many countries have an official national bird. For example, the national bird of Israel is the Hoopoe, and the national bird of Mauritius is the Dodo. All U.S. states also have official birds. But did you know that there are even some cities that have their own official bird?

The official city bird of Rauma, Finland is the Great Black-backed Gull. Oddly, in the Rauma dialect, there is no specific name for this species. The word "truut" is used for all large gulls found in the area: Great Black-backed; Lesser Black-backed; and Herring. It is estimated that the Great Black-backed Gull was nesting on Rauma soil 4200 years before the city was officially founded! For Rauma, the gull symbolizes the care that residents should take in local wildlife.

Great Black-backed Gull with the Rauma Coat of Arms
Great Black-backed Gull with the Rauma Coat of Arms
Birdorable Great Black-backed Gull

Bonanza Bird #12: Great Black-backed Gull

November 29th, 2011 in Gulls, Birdorable Bonanza 2011 1 comment
Great Black-backed Gull

Today’s bird, and the 12th species in the Birdorable Bonanza, is the Great Black-backed Gull!

Lesser Black Backed Gull
Great Black Backed Gull by Hilary Chambers

Great Black-backed Gulls are the largest species of gull in the world, larger than the very common and oversized Herring Gull. Like many gull species, Great Black-backs will scavenge for much of their food. They will also take live prey, using a variety of techniques including drowning and vigorous physical attack. These large and sometimes predatory gulls have very few predators to fear themselves.

Tomorrow's bird is a small American bird that perched in an open field sings "dick dick ciss ciss ciss". Can you guess what it will be?

Birdorable Bonanza Preview