Tag Archives: Gulls

Winter Gulls and Gulling

Herring and Iceland Gulls

Herring and Iceland Gulls (click to see the larger version)

We’ve had some unusual gulls at Montrose this winter, including Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, and Iceland. We haven’t had any Glaucous Gulls but they could show up too. The best place to look for these gulls is on Lake Michigan off the fishing pier. Ironically, the harbor rarely gets unusual gulls in the winter, even though Ring-billed Gulls often gather there. If you have a spare loaf of bread or two, try chumming from the fishing pier. You’ll at least bring in Herring and Ring-billed Gulls, and the commotion may draw in something better.

Kleptoparasitism – Stealing Does a Bird Good

Herring Gull with Red-breasted Mergansers

Waiting. Herring Gull with Red-breasted Mergansers. (click to see the larger version)

You may have noticed Herring Gulls hanging around groups of Red-breasted Mergansers at Montrose. The gulls are there for a good reason, at least for them – to steal fish the mergansers have caught. When a merganser dives and then surfaces with a fish, the Herring Gulls race in and try to snatch it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but the gulls must succeed enough to justify the effort. This thieving behavior is called kleptoparasitism and is a common practice where mergansers and Herring Gulls occur together. It’s easier for the gulls to let the mergs do the hard work of finding food and try to steal it then to catch the fish themselves. No one ever said nature was fair or just.

June 3, 2022

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher (click to see the larger version)

A sample of birds from Montrose on June 3. This is why you should keep birding in June

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Snowy Plover
Piping Plover
Sanderling
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Franklin’s Gull
Great Egret
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Alder Flycatcher
Orchard Oriole
Dickcissel

Lots of photos are on my eBird checklist for the day, URL below.

eBird Checklist
June 3, 2022

Franklin’s Gull, May 5, 2022

Franklin's Gull

Franklin’s Gull (click to see the larger version)

An immature Franklin’s Gull graced Montrose Beach on May 5. Franklin’s Gulls are uncommon but regular spring migrants at Montrose; most occur in late April and early May. The best way to look for them is to scan the flocks of gulls and terns that gather on the beach. This advice also applies to other, less common gulls, like Laughing, which also start to appear in late spring.

On a related side note, you should think about checking the beach in the afternoon and evening, especially the protected beach. Gulls, terns, and shorebirds settle down later in the day and you could find something unusual among the more common Herring and Ring-billed Gulls. The protected beach is fenced off on all sides and inaccessible to people and dogs, so the birds that end up there feel safer and tend to hang around.

Great Black-backed Gulls

Great Black-backed Gull

First cycle Great Black-baked Gull at Montrose Beach (click to see the larger version)

One of the more unusual birds we’ve been seeing this winter are Great Black-backed Gulls. An adult and first cycle bird have been hanging around the beach and nearby Lake Michigan since late 2021. On January 4 I saw the young bird loafing on the public beach (gulls will gather on the beach to look for and eat washed up salmon). Great Black-backed Gulls are uncommon but regular in small numbers in the Chicago area in winter. Ducks and gulls are about the only birding game in town now that serious winter cold has set in.

What’s In a Name?

Lots of birds have alternate or colloquial names, like Big Cranky for Great Blue Heron or Camp Robber for Canada Jay. One colloquial name for Great Black-backed Gull is Coffin Carrier, an allusion to the dark back of adults. Some person, somewhere, came up with this name and it caught on, becoming part of the language and culture of a region. Colloquial names often have color or personality in a way that the standard English names don’t. The name Great Black-backed Gull is literal and descriptive, but Coffin Carrier has a different connotation and shows imagination and creative thinking. Maybe an undertaker in Boston came up with the name.

Franklin’s Gulls (and a bonus Black Scoter), November 12, 2021

Black Scoter

Black Scoter (click to see the larger version)

An impressive flight of Franklin’s Gulls took place at Montrose on November 12. Multiple flocks were flying fast down the lakefront, totaling about 150 birds. Some were flying over Lake Michigan, but most were passing right over the Point. Large numbers of Franklin’s aren’t unexpected in mid November and considering the powerful fall storm that moved through northern Illinois. I also had a Black Scoter inside the fishing pier.

Doesn’t November rock?

eBird Checklist
November 12, 2021