2013 – 3 It’s a GULL, Not a Seagull

Why are gulls called ‘seagulls?’ It’s just an education-thing we somehow got in the habit of saying. Imagine similar misnaming, such as landdeer, oceanwhales or backyardraccoons and you’ll get the idea. There are lots of different types of gulls, like herring, Thayer, Herrmann’s or ring billed – but they’re all still just gulls. Of them all, glaucous-winged gulls are by far the most common Salish Sea gull, and it is rarely far from salt water. A large bird to 27” long with a 47-59” wingspan, they once nested only on offshore islands, but recently many gulls have set up shop on downtown rooftops. Without proof, I think they’re seeking refuge from increasing eagle populations on their island nesting sites.

Glaucous-winged gulls tend to hybridize with western gulls, a bird with a much darker mantle and some offspring are difficult to identify. They are thought to live about 15 years but one individual lived at least 30, showing that they have a relatively easy life around here. It takes three years to obtain adult plumage. First winter birds are very brown, turning more white and gray in proceeding seasons until they reach a regal stark white and gray. Next time you’re dockside and see one of these GULLS (remember, not seagulls), try to judge how old it might be.

Larry Eifert paints and blogs about wild places at larryeifert.com. His work can be seen in many national parks across America.

<< previousnext >>