Scene in Edmonds: Rare Swallow-tailed Gull pays a visit


One of the rarest birds to be found in North America settled in on the Edmonds marina breakwater Thursday morning at 8 a.m. It has returned Friday morning.

Somehow one bird found its way north and entered Puget Sound. It was first seen by a birder at Seattle’s Carkeek Park last Thursday. Since then it has been seen at Point Wells, just south of Edmonds, and at the Everett waterfront. We can now claim it as an Edmonds visitor.

Birders have been traveling from all over North America to see this gull.The Swallow-tailed Gull has a shortened version of a Barn Swallow’s tail when seen in flight. It has reddish legs, a black hood, red orbital rings that really can stand out against the black, a white saddle at the base of the bill, and solid black on the tips of its wings. Its darkish-gray mantle extends about halfway out its wings.

It is the only fully nocturnal gull or seabird in the world. It feeds on squid and small fish at night and rests during the day. It will probably remain among the Heermann’s Gulls on the marina breakwater until it leaves to feed Thursday evening. Where it will rest Friday is anyone’s guess. Pierce County birders are hoping that it will follow squid south and end up in their waters.

If you were on the waterfront Thursday, you may have seen many visitors with binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras. This will continue as long as the Swallow-tailed Gull continues to rest on the breakwater.

— By Carol Riddell

4 Replies to “Scene in Edmonds: Rare Swallow-tailed Gull pays a visit”

  1. Carol, you amaze me with your knowledge. And I am so grateful to you for passing it on and for My Edmonds News for having you as a contributor. I never fail to learn something from you.
    Out of curiosity, what do you think brought the birds here? The pictures are great.


  2. There has been one hypothesis that the strong El Niño of a couple of years go may have pushed this gull to the North Pacific where it has been wandering. I read in one authoritative gull reference book that this species will accompany ships during the night. There is a great deal of shipping traffic between western South American ports and the Puget Sound ports. So it is possible that the gull arrived by ship assist. There is a centuries long maritime tradition of bored sailors feeding birds at sea. It could be either one of these possibilities or another that no one has yet considered. Part of the lure for birders of a rare bird is its back story. It seems that some bird species produce more wanderers than do others. Just like some humans are stay-at-homes and others want to wander the globe, I have often wondered if there is similar diversity of desires among some bird species.


  3. Thanks for the additional information. It is a concept I hadn’t thought of, but it makes sense. You are just a fountain of information! Thanks.


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