Gulls, acrobats of the skies

Although we tend to refer to all gulls as “seagulls” there are over 20 species that live in North America

THE WESTERN GULL is one of the more common gulls in our area.

THE WESTERN GULL is one of the more common gulls in our area.

Acrobats of the skies, sea gulls can float on the wind currents without a wing beat; they are very agile and can manoeuvre themselves or hover with the ability to land like a feather.

Although we tend to refer to all gulls as “seagulls” there are over 20 species that live in North America: 19 of these live in B.C. Gulls are a bird species that can often be very difficult to identify especially the juveniles as they have different plumage coloration each year until they reach maturity at four years old.

Overall, gulls are robust, long-winged birds with stout sharp, hooked bills and webbed feet with the exception of the hind toe. The best method of identification for adult gulls is by the bill, leg and feet coloration, which can black, yellow, red or pink. The western gull is one of the more common gulls in our area and has a very specific habitat range along the coastline of British Columbia south to the Baja in California and Mexico.

This gull is one of the larger species on average 60 centimetres long, the adult birds have white heads and breast with dark grey wings tipped with white dots along the edges. The adults have pink legs, and a yellow bill with a red dot at under the tip which is used to attract the chicks stimulating them to feed; many other species have similar dots or rings varying in colour.

On average western gulls live 15 years but some make it to 25 years. Western gulls are almost exclusively marine birds and are rarely found away from the coastline, they are social birds and usually found in large flocks. They nest off-shore on small islands or rocks along the coast; many can be seen off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Unlike some of their relatives, western gulls feed on the surface of the water or along exposed areas of beach during low tide; they do not dive for food. Gulls by nature are opportunistic feeders dining on a wide variety of food. At sea the western gulls will feed on squid, krill and jellyfish which come to the surface. At low tide they will opt for shellfish and snails together with rotting meat from seal or fish carcasses. Around populated areas they will happily scavenge on human food waste and like so many bird species will flock to the garbage dump to dine on leftovers, they also are well known to beg at picnics along the beach.

Western Gulls are predatory by nature and will prey on other gulls or birds’ nests taking the eggs or young chicks. Breeding time is a dangerous time for all wildlife but gulls use shallow nests in exposed areas, often just in a rocky hollow, and very susceptible to predation; although they produce three eggs often only one chick will survive.

This winter M.A.R.S. has rescued several seagulls including two western gulls. During stormy weather these gulls will often seek respite from the storm in nearby urban areas, Superstore in Courtenay being a favourite spot. Unfortunately, often they are hit by cars which caused one of the rescued gulls to fracture a wing the other sustained neurological damage.

The gull with the broken wing is on the mend and should make a full recovery, but the head injury sustained by the other gull caused the bird to fall over and it was unable to stand or walk. Gradually with daily physiotherapy and swimming in a tub this gull is improving. Gulls in captivity can be a handful; they are very snappy and often bite the hand that feeds them. On the plus side they are very easy to feed as they will eat a wide variety of food.

It is hoped that both these gulls will be released in the new year along with our two remaining eagles. 2011 has been another busy year with almost 450 cases and I would like to thank all the dedicated volunteers who support M.A.R.S., especially the animal care givers who come each week to tend for the injured wildlife which often is a messy job but so rewarding!

Also thanks to the board members who guide us and fundraise and to the people who have made donations and continue to support us each year. We look forward to our first event in the new year, our “Eaglefest” at Campbell River on Feb. 25.

To report injured wildlife please call 1-800-304-9968, for all other calls 250-337-2021. Website  www.wingtips.org.

Sandy Fairfield is the educational co-ordinator for the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS). The MARS column appears every second Friday.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A man sustained burns to his body near this spot around 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 13 in Courtenay. The fire was left of the pathway. The Station youth housing facility and city public works yard are to the right of the trail. Photo by Terry Farrell
Emergency personnel respond to man on fire in wooded area of Courtenay

A man was badly burned in the early morning hours Tuesday in… Continue reading

This 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 was stolen from Black Creek Motors at approximately 2 a.m. Sunday, April 11. Photos via blackcreekmotors.com
VIDEO: Thieves steal truck from Black Creek car lot by towing it away

Have you seen a 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 in your neighbourhood in… Continue reading

Teresa Hedley and a copy of her book, “What’s Not Allowed? A Family Journey with Autism.” Photo supplied
Comox Library recognizes Autism Awareness Month with presentation by local author

April is World Autism Awareness Month, an annual opportunity to increase understanding… Continue reading

Comox council will further look at a troublesome traffic area in the Point Holmes area of the town. Photo submitted
Comox council to look at speed calming measures at Point Holmes

“…We are waiting for a problem to happen if we don’t act.”

A 41-person air task force, including 12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, seized more than $3 million CND worth of cocaine as part of Op Caribbe. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook
19 Wing Comox crew involved in three-tonne cocaine seizure worth more than $293 million

12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron involved in Op Caribbe

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Two men were seen removing red dresses alongside the Island Highway in Oyster Bay. (Submitted photo)
Two men filmed removing red dresses from trees on highway near Ladysmith

Activists hung the dresses to raise awareness for Vancouver Island’s Murdered/Missing Women & Girls

Comox Lake is the drinking water source for the CVRD. Photo supplied
Comox Valley Water Treatment Project nears completion

The Comox Valley Water Treatment Project is more than 85 per cent… Continue reading

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

RCMP on scene yesterday at the altercation at the trailer park. (Submitted photo)
Violent altercation at Port Hardy trailer park sends one to hospital

Police say man confronted another over airsoft shooting, then was attacked with a weapon

Comox council approved a change in fees for using the Comox Municipal Marina, extending the collection of fees from March 1 to Oct. 31 each year. Black Press file photo
Fee changes, increased costs coming to Comox Municipal Marina

The town will be extending the collection of fees from March 1 to Oct. 31

John Albert Buchanan was found guilty of manslaughter in the 2017 death of Richard Sitar. Pictured here, Buchanan walking to the court in Nanaimo last year. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Six years including time served for Nanaimo man in bludgeoning death

John Albert Buchanan sentenced in B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo for death of Richard Sitar

Protesters occupied a road leading to Fairy Creek Watershed near Port Renfrew. (Submitted photo)
B.C. First Nation says logging activist interference not welcome at Fairy Creek

Vancouver Island’s Pacheedaht concerned about increasing polarization over forestry activities

Most Read