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California Gull

California Gull

Birders don’t use the term “sea gull” because many gulls spend most of their lives far from the ocean.

The California Gull breeds around Mono Lake, but spends so much of its time in Utah that it’s the state bird. A Salt Lake City monument honors California Gulls because the birds twice saved crops of Mormon settlers from grasshopper plagues.

It takes four years for California Gulls to attain adult plumage. Adults have gray backs, show white spots on their black wing tips; their feet and legs are greenish-gray. Bills have black spots on the lower mandibles. Breeding adults have clean white heads, and narrow red rings around dark eyes, and they add a red spot to the black on the bills. First winter California Gulls are dark brown with black- tipped pink bills and pink legs.

California Gulls are common migrants and winter visitors. They feed at lakes, marshes, agricultural fields, estuaries, cities, garbage dumps, and at sea. They will feed on the surface for small fish. On land, they eat bugs, carrion, and eggs and young of other birds. In summer, when they move inland, they are considered an aid to farmers because they eat grasshoppers, cutworms and mice.

California Gulls nest on islands in fress water or alkaline lakes. They make nests of sticks, weeds, rubbish and feathers. The pair incubates three darkly blotched eggs for 25 days and both feed the young.

First published MCAS The Black Oystercatcher January 2015
California Gull (center) gets a territorial tail-yank from a Western Gull on Virgin Creek Beach in Mackerricher State Park.
The photograph was taken in September, 2010. Photo by Becky Bowen