An instructor of grace or a depraved hooligan
October 20, 2019 7:39 PM   Subscribe

We all know that seagulls are one of the two types of birds. But how much do we really know about gulls? The Seattle Times’ Sandi Doughton takes an in-depth look at gulls and the experts who study them.
“We tend to have dim views of species like crows, raccoons and gulls that can take advantage of all sorts of situations and make it in places where it’s not easy,” says Tom Good, a seabird biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle. “That’s a trait we have as well, but we don’t seem to like to see it in other species.”
Bonus: Learn gull language with audio samples of “common calls and what they seem to communicate.”
posted by mbrubeck (22 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Ivar’s Acres of Clams on the Seattle waterfront, where people are encouraged to feed the gulls (but not the pigeons).

Well, that's just discrimination.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:17 PM on October 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is delightful! I love seagulls and would like one to, I dunno, just live on my head so it can spread its wings and screech make yelping and choking noises at people any time the moment calls for it (the moment always calls for it). Loved listening to the gulls in that second ST article - maybe if I start practicing now, maybe I'll be ready in time for next year's Gull Screeching Championship. And I think I'll save that first ST article for some point when I really need to read something wonderful. Future me thanks you!
posted by DingoMutt at 8:45 PM on October 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I see so many of them around Chicago, especially near the lake. I've always wondered where they nest. I've never seen a gull nest, at least I don't think so. I used to watch some really huge ones on the beach in South Miami Beach when I lived there in the 90s. I find them fascinating, though sometimes annoying. Some of the Miami gulls would get seriously loud. And I wouldn't want to get hit by their droppings.

Wish there was more information in this article.
posted by SoberHighland at 9:14 PM on October 20, 2019

We have seagulls in Spokane, WA. We are 300 miles from the sea. I feel like this is a bug in reality.
posted by hippybear at 9:28 PM on October 20, 2019

Bonus: Learn gull language
posted by hippybear at 9:32 PM on October 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've lived in the PNW for 20 odd years and I swear half the natives say "Seagles" when referring to them.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:48 PM on October 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

The kinds of gulls that hang around cities nest mostly on low islands. Others nest on cliffs. This is because in a gull vs rat battle the rat usually wins and in a gull vs fox or raccoon battle the fox and raccoon always win. So inaccessible is safer.

Gulls are really neat, smart, savage birds. They don't get the respect they deserve.
posted by fshgrl at 11:33 PM on October 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

We have seagulls in Spokane, WA. We are 300 miles from the sea. I feel like this is a bug in reality.

Bug in social construction of reality driven by terminology.
Ring-billed gulls nest mainly around lakes in Central Washington — one reason experts disapprove of the colloquial name “seagulls.”
posted by away for regrooving at 11:48 PM on October 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

We need an Untitled Seagull Game, stat. Think of all the sandwiches you could steal!
posted by emjaybee at 12:29 AM on October 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

I live by the sea. Seagulls nest behind our chimney every year and produce typically three baby seagulls, with on average two of the little morons falling off the roof and either breaking a foot or wing or becoming prey for local wildlife. God knows how they survive in a non-urban environment like cliffsides.

My whole town gets rooftop nests across it. The town slopes down to the water and if you find somewhere with good sightlines you can see they are on about every other roof, with multiple nests on large flat roofs. I think they are encouraged by the waste food they can access in the streets but people, especially tourists feed them directly. This means some of them can get pretty aggressive in the winter when the food supply dwindles. I've had food taken from my hand twice in the winter, as well as losing a while bacon sandwich to one at an outdoor cafe in the autumn. That at least was interesting to watch since the gull managed to get the whole chunky triangle of doorstop toast, bacon and brown sauce down its neck in one go.
posted by biffa at 12:56 AM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I like ravens and gulls generally, but seagulls? I lived in Aberdeen and watched a seagull chase a cat down an alley. They will land in your hair to steal food if you eat outside. They were aggressive and almost entirely unafraid and straight up gangs of muggers. The seagulls in Edinburgh might as well be pigeons in comparison (and are noticeably smaller).
posted by stillnocturnal at 4:01 AM on October 21, 2019

Its funny how you get different levels of aggressiveness in the town based herring gulls. There are stories about aggressive gulls in many of the coastal towns where I live in Cornwall but St Ives is generally regarded as the worst. Personal experience backs this up. My SO bought a sandwich from a harbour side window in the wall, turned around and a gull literally took the whole thing in one big swoop. Another time we were there with ice cream cones and being very protective due to the previous experience and were literally stalked by multiple gulls, some walking, some hovering.

I also know someone whose cheek was cut open by a herring gull dropping out of the sky to steal her sandwich as she put it in her mouth and catching her with a talon.
posted by biffa at 4:56 AM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

One of the points made in the article, that creatures such as gulls, pigeons, crows, raccoons, rats, roaches, ants and so on that are fascinating because of their incredible versatility, is something I've often thought about. Their success comes from adaptability - being able to thrive in many environments, on many different foods. Much like ourselves. Pandas and rhinos and rare butterflies that only live on a certain plant are things we should try to preserve at all costs, but they have kind of painted themselves into a corner, from an evolutionary standpoint. You only have to look at the average British landfill to see how well gulls have adapted.
posted by pipeski at 5:42 AM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

They're not gulls but fulmars combine the most graceful flight (long, stiff wings used to catch cliff updrafts) with the most effective/offensive nest defence (horking up digested fish oils over a considerable distance). I think gulls really want to be fulmars.
posted by scruss at 7:33 AM on October 21, 2019

We have seagulls in Spokane, WA. We are 300 miles from the sea. I feel like this is a bug in reality.

I've seen them here in TN, near the large landfills.
posted by jquinby at 9:22 AM on October 21, 2019

“That’s a trait we have as well, but we don’t seem to like to see it in other species.”

That’s a fascinating idea and now I’m trying to think of exceptions
posted by not_the_water at 9:28 AM on October 21, 2019

An emeritus professor at my grad program had a different bird taxonomy to rile the new species-splitting prof who filled his old job:

If it's bigger than a crow it's a vulture.
If it's smaller than a crow it's a dickie bird.
If it's anything else, it's a genetic abnormality.

("dickie bird" is a Britishism for "little brown jobbies", a generic term for the vast ranks of uncharismatic small birds)
posted by momus_window at 10:10 AM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Why don't seagulls live by the bay? Because then they would be bagels.

One of my favorites
posted by olopua at 11:27 AM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Here in the Chicago suburbs the seagulls all live in the parking lot of Portillos. Their cries can generally be interpreted as demands for french fries.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:08 PM on October 21, 2019

I once saw a family of gulls teach their fledglings how to fly. Nudge nudge, drop, flapflapflap. The last one was super reluctant and the bigger adult gull just straight up pushed it off the ledge.

The first and the last flew back pretty quickly but one of the adults had to go and guide the middle one back.

Saw a lot of gull-crow fights. Gulls are bigger and can gain altitude more quickly but crows have a much better turning radius. Pretty evenly matched, overall, but get two crows (even against two gulls) and the crows win the majority of the time through teamwork.

Used to work in an industrial park with a couple of bald eagles - gulls and crows would work together to harass them whenever they got too close to (presumably) rooftop nests.
posted by porpoise at 2:15 PM on October 21, 2019

In Florida we have laughing gulls which really ought to be the official state bird. They’re loud, obnoxious and go out of their way to steal food from tourists often taking whole sandwiches out of their hands. They’re assholes but they’re our assholes and it warms my black heart to see a stupid tourist kid being chased down the beach by a swarm because he thought it would be funny to throw one a potato chip.
posted by photoslob at 5:54 PM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

There are 25+ species of gulls in North America. About 6 of them are commonly found inland, far from salt water. Ring-billed Gulls are nearly everywhere, every Wall-Mart parking lot at least part of the year. Herring Gulls, are close behind. The rest are mostly seen inland when migrating from their Canadian lakes summer homes.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:55 PM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

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