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Seagulls, Love'em or Leave'em

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Love'em or leave'em, the seagull is a coastline favorite. Graceful birds with distinctive white heads and bodies, are known for their social behavior, mischievous nature, and remarkable resilience. Who are these birds and what is it like in a day in their life?

Seagulls are a common sight along many coastlines and are known for their distinctive appearance and behavior. They belong to the bird family Laridae and are part of the larger group of birds known as gulls. Despite their reputation as pests, seagulls are fascinating creatures with a rich history and biology. This article will provide an overview of the biology, behavior, and history of seagulls.

Squawk and the Alure of the Gull

Seagulls have been associated with the ocean and coastal areas for centuries, and they have been depicted in art, literature, and folklore for just as long. They are mentioned in works by authors such as William Shakespeare, Herman Melville, and Jonathan Swift. In popular culture, seagulls are often depicted as pests, but they have also been celebrated for their beauty, grace, and resilience. One of the most famous seagulls is the character named "Squawk" from the book "Jonathan Livingstone Seagull" written by Richard Bach. This classic story tells the tale of a seagull named Jonathan who is determined to fly higher and faster than any other bird in his flock. Through his journey, Jonathan learns important life lessons and becomes a role model to other seagulls. While Squawk is a fictional character, he is widely recognized as one of the most famous seagulls in literature and continues to inspire readers around the world.

A Seagulls Bloodline

There are many species of gulls, but seagulls are often used to describe the larger gull species. The seagull's scientific name, Larus, is derived from the Greek word for "gull". Seagulls include several species of gulls, terns, and skimmers. They are well adapted to life near the ocean, with waterproof feathers, webbed feet, and sharp bills that they use to catch fish and other prey. Seagulls are migratory birds, traveling long distances to breeding and wintering grounds. They are highly gregarious and form large colonies during the breeding season, where they lay eggs and raise their young.

The New Jersey coast is home to a variety of gull species, including both year-round residents and migratory birds. Some of the common gull species found in New Jersey include:

Herring Gull: This is one of the most widely distributed and abundant gull species in North America and can be found along the New Jersey coast throughout the year.

Ring-billed Gull: This is a smaller gull species that is common along the New Jersey coast during the summer months, particularly in urban and suburban areas.

Great Black-backed Gull: This is the largest gull species in North America and can be found along the New Jersey coast during the winter months.

Laughing Gull: This is a coastal species that is common in New Jersey during the summer months, particularly along the beaches and bays.

Bonaparte's Gull: This is a small gull species that breeds in the Arctic and migrates through New Jersey during the spring and fall.

These are just a few of the species of gulls that can be found along the New Jersey coast. The actual species present can vary depending on the time of year, the location, and other factors.

Seagulls are part of a Delicate Ecosystem

Seagulls have been the subject of scientific study for many years, and scientists have learned a great deal about their biology, behavior, and evolution. Today, seagulls are considered important indicators of the health of coastal ecosystems, and their populations are closely monitored by wildlife biologists and conservationists.

Seagulls are well adapted for Survival

Seagulls are well-adapted to life near the ocean and are known for their strong, powerful wings and their ability to fly long distances. They have long, slender bodies and long, pointed wings that make them well-suited for flying and diving. Seagulls are also known for their distinctive call, which is a harsh, loud screech that is easily recognizable.

Seagulls are omnivores and feed on a variety of food sources, including small fish, crustaceans, mollusks, insects, and carrion. They are opportunistic feeders and will also scavenge for food, including human food waste and litter. While seagulls are not typically considered predators, they can be aggressive when it comes to obtaining food and may displace or out-compete other wildlife for resources. In some cases, seagulls may also prey on small birds, eggs, and chicks, particularly in colonies or nesting areas.

Seagulls hate their Natural Predators

Although seagulls are strong and capable fliers, they are vulnerable to a number of natural predators, including foxes, raccoons, skunks, and large birds of prey such as eagles and owls. In addition to natural predators, seagulls are also threatened by human activities. Seagulls have several natural predators, including:

  1. Bald Eagles: Bald Eagles are known to prey on gulls, especially chicks and eggs.

  2. Peregrine Falcons: Peregrine Falcons are known to prey on gulls, particularly during migration season.

  3. Great Horned Owls: Great Horned Owls are known to hunt gulls, especially during the night.

  4. Coyotes, Foxes, Racoons, and Skunks: These carnivores are also known to prey on gulls, especially when they are nesting on the ground.

In addition to these natural predators, gulls can also fall victim to human-made hazards, such as power lines, wind turbines, and oil spills, which can result in injury or death. They are often hunted for sport or for their meat and eggs, and they can be killed by boats, oil spills, and other forms of human-caused pollution.

Even with all of these natural and human predators gulls are resilient birds and have a wide range of habitats and food sources, which helps them to survive despite the presence of predators.

What makes the SeaGull Special?

Seagulls are fascinating birds that play a unique and important role in the ecosystem. Despite their reputation as pests, they are highly intelligent, social creatures with a rich history and biology. Compared to other birds, they have a relatively large brain size relative to their body size, which is thought to be an indicator of intelligence.

In terms of their behavior, seagulls are highly social birds and are often seen in large flocks. They are also known for their mating behaviors, which are often elaborate and involve a great deal of courtship displays and rituals. During the breeding season, seagulls will build their nests in large colonies and will defend their nests and young fiercely.

Seagulls have complex social behaviors, such as forming complex relationships with other birds in their colony and engaging in courtship behaviors. During the breeding season, seagulls engage in a variety of courtship behaviors, including calls, displays, and offerings of food to potential mates. They are also highly territorial and will defend their nests and young from intruders.

They are also skilled hunters and scavengers, which requires a certain level of problem-solving and adaptability. Whether they are scavenging for food or courting a mate, seagulls are an important part of the coastal landscape and a symbol of the resilience and beauty of nature.

One of the defining features of seagulls is their diet, which is primarily composed of seafood. Seagulls are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals, and are known to consume a wide variety of food items. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat a wide variety of seafood, including fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. Seagulls are also known for their bold and fearless behavior when it comes to obtaining food. They are often seen scavenging in garbage dumps, fishing boats, and other areas where food is readily available. This can be seen as a nuisance due to their scavenging habits and their loud calls. In some areas, they have even been known to attack humans in order to obtain food.

Don't feed the birds

Some of these food items can be harmful to their health if consumed in large quantities or if they are not properly processed by their digestive system. Some examples of food items that can make seagulls sick if consumed in excess include:

  • Garbage: Seagulls are often attracted to garbage because it can contain a variety of food items. However, consuming large amounts of garbage can lead to digestive problems and can also expose them to harmful chemicals and pollutants.

  • Cooked Rice: Cooked rice can be particularly harmful to seagulls as it expands in their stomachs, leading to digestive blockages.

  • Bread: While bread may seem like a harmless food item, it is actually very high in carbohydrates and can lead to digestive problems if consumed in large quantities.

  • Human Foods: Many human foods, such as french fries and chicken, are high in salt and fat, which can be harmful to seagulls if consumed in large quantities.

In general, it is best to avoid feeding seagulls, as feeding them can encourage them to become habituated to people and increase the likelihood of them becoming a nuisance. If you do choose to feed them, it is important to do so in moderation and to avoid feeding them harmful or indigestible food items.

A Pretty Tough Bird Helping a Weak World

Despite these threats, seagulls are generally able to adapt and survive in a wide range of environments. They are highly intelligent and resourceful birds, and they have a strong instinct for survival that helps them evade danger and find food.

Seagulls play an important role in coastal ecosystems and contribute to the balance of the environment in several ways. Some of the ways seagulls give back to the environment include

  • Scavenging: Seagulls are scavengers and feed on a variety of food sources, including dead fish and other marine life. By consuming dead and decaying matter, seagulls help to clean up the environment and reduce the spread of disease.

  • Pollination: Some species of seagulls, such as the Western Gull, feed on plants and flowers, thereby helping to pollinate them.

  • Pest control: Seagulls are also known to feed on insects and other pests, helping to control their populations and reducing the need for chemical pesticides.

  • Nutrient cycling: When seagulls defecate, they contribute to the cycling of nutrients in the environment, which is essential for the growth of plants and other organisms.

  • Carbon sequestration: Like all birds, seagulls store carbon in their bodies and through their droppings, helping to remove carbon from the atmosphere and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Overall, seagulls play an important role in maintaining the balance of the coastal ecosystem and contribute to the health and well-being of the environment in a variety of ways.

Seagulls Behaving Badly

Seagulls do have some negative impacts on our ecosystem and quality of life.

  • Litter: Seagulls are known for rummaging through garbage and litter, scattering the waste, and making a mess. This can create health and sanitation problems in coastal areas, particularly in tourist locations where large numbers of gulls can congregate.

  • Agriculture damage: Seagulls can also damage crops and cause problems for farmers, particularly in areas near the coast where they feed on crops such as wheat and corn.

  • Property damage: Seagulls can damage buildings, vehicles, and other property through their droppings, which are acidic and can corrode metal and other materials.

  • Health concerns: Seagull droppings can pose a health risk to humans, particularly in areas where large numbers of gulls congregate. Their droppings can contain harmful bacteria and pathogens that can spread disease.

  • Interference with wildlife: Seagulls can also compete with other birds and wildlife for food and resources, potentially impacting the populations of other species.

Not at all seagulls cause problems and these impacts can be mitigated through effective management and conservation efforts. In many cases, it's a matter of managing human activities and reducing attractants, such as food waste and litter, that draw seagulls to populated areas.

Be one with the Seagulls Ecosystem

In conclusion, seagulls are fascinating birds that play a critical role in marine ecosystems. Their strong, powerful wings, distinctive calls, and bold behavior make them a memorable sight along many coastlines. Despite the challenges they face, seagulls are an important part of our natural world and deserve our respect and protection. Whether you love them or dislike them, there is no denying the beauty and significance of these fascinating birds.

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