I'm a Gull Watcher

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"I'm a gull watcher, I'm a gull watcher, Watching gulls go by, my my my. I'm a gull watcher, I'm a gull watcher, Here comes one now...."

All right, all right, terrible song but I am a gull watcher. It is a good thing, because no matter where you go if there is water -- even far inland -- there are often gulls. There's about a half dozen species found during the summer in the San Francisco Bay. Probably the most commonly encountered is the Western Gull. This large black-backed gull breeds on the Farallon Islands, offshore rocks and steep inaccessible cliffs along the ocean edge from Baja to Washington State. Gulls belong to a large bird group collectively called "seabirds" which include 325 or so species of the pelicans, terns, albatrosses, penguins, shearwaters, cormorants and grebes.

Gulls, like most other seabirds, exhibit little physical differences between male and female. They mate for life but are not tied to each other per se, but to the location in which they successfully bred the previous year. The males arrive first at the breeding site and establish their territory. The females follow to that territory, not to the male. Courtship does not rely on flashy plumage but instead on elaborate rituals like mutual dancing and preening or food presentation. Most adult gulls are some combination of black and white. Black feathers contain melanin, which is resistant to UV damage, and seabirds rarely find shade! They are long-lived -- gulls to age 25, albatrosses to 70! Gulls have the ability to drink ocean water. Because like all seabirds they have a pair of lateral nasal glands that can remove excess salt from the bloodstream. They lay relatively few eggs and have a great deal of parental care -- both male and female help raise the young.

These fascinating denizens of the Bay Area are everywhere to be seen, but the more you know about them the more likely you'll become a gull watcher, too. Here comes one now.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.