We don’t see many gulls here at the Museum. The place to look for gulls is Jordan Lake, Falls Lake, Lake Crabtree, and mall and fast food restaurant parking lots.
The vast majority of the gulls in our area are Ring-billed Gulls. Tens of Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of the medium sized gulls arrive from the north each year sometime in November and depart in April. A few arrive early and some linger in the spring, but for the most part it’s November through April when the gulls visit us.
The gulls spend the nights on our reserviors and span out during the day to landfills, malls, and wherever else they can find food. They are so often encountered at malls and parking lots that I sometimes call them Mall Gulls. The malls and Mickey D’s are especially busy during stormy days with high winds, particularly with several days of NE winds, when the birds find the parking lots offer them some relief from those winds.
The ring-billeds are not the only gulls here in winter. Bonaparte’s Gulls, Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls are also here, although fewer in number. It’s the Ring-billeds that are seemingly everywhere in our fair state during winter.
Where do all of these gulls come from?
A banding recovery study of the gulls, all North American breeding gulls, from the 1930s – 1976 states that the majority of gulls recovered, in South Carolina at least, were from the New England States and Canada’s Maritime Provinces. The remaining gulls were originally banded in the Great Lakes Region.
That recovery study also suggests that the vast majority of Ring-billed Gulls wintering in the Southeast do so in Florida and Georgia and that South Carolina was the northern limit for wintering ring-billeds.
During the early part of the 20th century the Ring-billed Gull was nearly extirpated in the Great Lakes due to egg hunters (for food) and feather hunters (for the millinery trade). However, cesation of hunting, large argibusiness, and open landfills have made it possible for ring-billeds to bounce back and by 1976 their numbers were up to over 300,000 and have nearly doubled in the Great Lakes Region since then. Their total population is around 2,550,000 across North America.
I suspect many of our winter Ring-billed visitors originate in the Great Lakes. And, I suspect that the increase in human population here in the Piedmont of North Carolina, and the things that go along with the increased human population, like reservoirs, malls and landfills, have caused the gulls to short stop and spend the winter here instead of going further south.
I enjoy watching gulls, it’s one of the things that I miss most about not living near the ocean. I welcome the arrival of the gulls each year and think it would be nice to see them stop in at the Museum once in a while, but I guess I’ll have to settle for an occasional fly-over. Of course, I could always drive on over to Falls or Jordan Lakes to reminisce, or go to the mall.
Greg Dodge is a professional naturalist as well as a writer, videographer and producer of natural history DVDs. His images have been used in various TV productions, museum displays, and corporate videos. Above all, he has a fascination and passion for all things natural.
He can be found Tuesday thru Saturday in Explore the Wild, Catch the Wind, or on the Dinosaur Trail. Ask him what’s new in the wild!