The nimble thief is an apt description of the Heermann’s Gull. Pointed long wings on a compact body with a short tail allow this aggressive feeder to make breakneck maneuvers. It is adept at chasing other seabirds to steal their food. Edmonds is privileged to host along the waterfront a summer population of several hundred of these gulls.
The Heermann’s Gull is a Pacific species, found almost exclusively along the West Coast of North America. It breeds from December to March, mostly along Baja California on both the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean. It winters from San Francisco south to its Mexican breeding range. It summers from Northern California to Vancouver Island. In Washington it is mostly found along the outer coast and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It is rare to see this gull in the inland marine waters south of Admiralty Inlet.
The first gulls start to arrive in Edmonds in early June and spend the summer, when not out patrolling for food, loafing on the marina’s south breakwater or at the Shell Creek beach when the tide is out. The Shell Creek outlet, north of the ferry dock, is a favorite gathering spot for gulls at rest and for bathing in the fresh water. By mid-October the first Heermann’s Gulls start their southward journey. There is usually a straggler or two into the first week of December.
Many birds abandon the Edmonds marine waters in summer because their breeding grounds are elsewhere. With so few birds around, the antics of the Heermann’s Gull–stealing food from other birds, hovering, plunge-diving for fish–are eye candy for bird observers. The white head of the adult contrasts with the dark body. Its long, bright orange bill can seem like garishly applied lipstick. This is a bird that stands out among all of our usual large white gulls.
Away from its winter breeding grounds, the Heermann’s Gull is generally less vocal than other gulls. You can, however, listen to this short recording, made one September, of a Heermann’s Gull at Clallam Bay on the Strait of Juan de Fuca: http://www.xeno-canto.org/109916.
– By Carol Riddell
Carol Riddell, author of our new “Bird Lore” feature, manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.