Friday, March 13, 2015

Thank Goodness for Gulls

Seagulls seem to be a ubiquitous species. They are so common that people sometimes term them “rats with wings.”

California Gulls on a rooftop on Antelope Island, Utah (photo: the wikipedia files)
If seagulls are so commonplace, why on earth would a state choose to make them its state bird??  First of all, there is no such bird as a seagull.  Seagull is a generic term used when talking about the various species of gull, like the California gull – which is, coincidentally, the state bird of Utah.

The California gull (Larus californicus) can be found wintering in the western United States, coming as far east as South Dakota, and spending the summers in a few areas of the northwestern states.  Gulls are true opportunists, eating anything from fish to French fries.  They will follow plows and other farm equipment to catch the insects and other small critters stirred up by its passage, dive toward the water to grab fish with their beaks, or wander around on the ground foraging for fruit or worms or discarded Happy Meals.  California gulls do so well for themselves that they are considered a species of Least Concern and have seen an increase in numbers.

Seagull monument-Temple, Utah (photo: the wikipedia files)
 These parking lot pests weren’t always considered to be pesky.  In fact, in Salt Lake City there exists a statue – a monument honoring the gulls.  Back in 1848, the settlers of Utah had a problem.  Their crops – their livelihoods – were being decimated by crickets.  The destruction was so bad that the settlers were losing all hope of saving their crops.  The settler’s salvation arrived from the skies.  Flocks upon flocks of California gulls were attracted to the abundance of crickets and proceeded to feast.  By the time the gulls had their fill and left the area, hardly a cricket was left, and the crops were saved from total devastation.  To commemorate saving the Utah settlers, the California gull was named the state bird in 1955.

Close-up of the birds atop the monument (photo: the wikipedia files)
Although there haven’t been any major plagues in recent years, Utah hasn’t forgotten the service rendered by the gulls.  The next time you see a group of gulls, instead of ignoring them or dismissing them, try thanking them for saving Utah.

Submitted by JoHanna Burton, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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