Bird Lore: California Gull

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The California Gull is a common summer visitor to the Edmonds waterfront. Upwards of several hundred can be seen flying about, floating on the nearshore waters, at rest on the dock roofs of the marina or at the Shell Creek mouth. This is a gull of western North America. Range expansion brought the first colony of the California Gull to Washington in 1932. There were eight colonies by 1977. About 7,000 birds were nesting along the Columbia River and in the Columbia Basin in 1996.

As are most gulls, the California Gull is an opportunistic feeder. Its varied diet includes insects, fish, eggs, and refuse. Its summer diet, at its inland nesting sites, consists of insects, worms, spiders, rodents, eggs, and the young of other birds. It sometimes follows plows on farm land to forage on insects exposed in the furrows. Along the coast and inland marine waters, this gull eats fish and other marine life. It also scavenges for refuse at open garbage dumps and at fishing piers.

The California Gull breeds in colonies that can be large. Its colonies are sometimes mixed with Ring-billed Gulls or other birds. Nests may be quite close together. Colonies are established on the ground near lakes or marshes and often on islands. The nest is a shallow depression lined with soft materials such as weeds, grass, feathers, or debris. The female typically lays three eggs. Both sexes incubate the eggs for a little more than three weeks. The young may leave the nest a few days after hatching, but they remain near it. The parents feed the young by regurgitation. First flight takes place about 45 days after the young hatch.

Populations of the California Gull have increased over the last 100 years. Its conservation status is that of least concern.

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A medium-sized gull, the California Gull is also a four-year gull. That means that it does not molt into its adult plumage until its fourth year. As an adult, it has a white head and undersides, a medium-gray back and wings, and black wing tips with white dots. The legs are yellow-green. The bill is yellow with a black tip and a red dot on the lower mandible.

The California Gull is a resident of the Great Salt Lake and is the Utah state bird. It is this species that, according to tradition, came to the rescue of Mormon settlers when the 1848 grasshopper plague threatened their crops, inspiring the Seagull Monument in Salt Lake City’s Temple Square.

You can listen to the calls of several adult California Gulls at this link: http://www.xeno-canto.org/189398.

— By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

1 COMMENT

  1. I wonder if that is one of the species that starts calling all the other gulls at about 5am in the morning all around the Walnut Café?

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