I have to admit that as I write this, all I can think about is Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls" lyrics. Except for I like to sing it "In a West End town, a dead-end world...the East End boys and Western GULLS". Of course, the gulls on Protection Island are mostly Glaucous-winged Gulls (GWG). But many of them are varying degrees of hybrid between GWG's and Western Gulls. I think the reason I'm so defensive about gulls is that the average person is so used to seeing them (often eating at dumpsters or using the restroom on your car) that they reduce gulls to the level of pigeons. Which ALSO isn't fair. Pigeons are technically doves people and gulls are incredibly successful seabirds with hilarious personalities. Successful? Yes. They are numerous, aren't they? And very speciose.
Just look at this fellow preening. Isn't he beautiful?
There are two GWG colonies on Protection Island, one of them quite large. I spent every morning recording and observing Pigeon Guillemots in the marina which is also the epicenter of the large gull colony. Between the rock crevices full of nesting guillemots, the high tide embankment lined with gull nests and the rocky beaches with scattered oystercatcher eggs, it was a busy, exciting place to watch. Gulls are very protective over their nests. They will absolutely dive-bomb you and I've heard many stories from other scientists who have studied gulls on the island which detail thumps to the hard hat that nearly knocked them over. A bird colony where hard hats are necessary? Yes. Gulls do not enjoy human presence around their babies. Also, imagine this many gulls...times a few thousand...
...and now try to think up another reason you would want to wear a hard hat whilst walking among and under all of these flying birds.
Recognizing the difference between male and female GWG's takes a bit of practice. They both gather nesting material, build the nest, and incubate the eggs so you can't cheat and tell one from the other just by their parental duties. The key indicator is the shape of the head. And even that is not always reliable. Males have a skinnier, longer looking head while females' seem more puffy. Because birds can change their body shape just by adjusting their feathers, you have to observe gulls for some time before you can form a hypothesis on sex.
Try your hand at these guys.
I counted 4 males and 2 females. What about this one? (I've given you three poses to choose from.)
I'm going to go with female here but this gal is tricky. It's nearly impossible without seeing them move around in person.
I'm betting some of you are still saying to yourselves, "Ok Steph, I've seen a gull before. And now I've seen one from every angle. Still a bit bored." That's about to change.
Soon: babies. But first! A few happy parents before their chicks hatch.
And now...the little camo babies!
And here's a mama regurgitating fish for her babies:
I hope you've enjoyed the photos and videos of the gulls and that you might be willing to give them another chance and take a closer look. I will say this in your defense. The GWG's did snack on one of my study chicks and I didn't appreciate that. I saw the culprit and wished I had a slingshot. So, one bad gull. There's one in every crowd.
Come back Wednesday for a look at the wildflowers and other flora on Protection Island!