110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Nature Scenes: Western gulls sometimes steal milk from female seals
By Lynn Bowen
posted Oct 20, 2013 - 8:02:17am
While vacationing on the West Coast recently, I saw a handsome Western gull standing on a stone fence on a cliff overlooking the scenic Pacific Ocean. He was hoping for a snack, and obviously many tourists had fed him. I seldom feed birds, but gulls are my exception. They just love a bite of bread or anything else edible, so I gave him a piece of my breakfast bagel.
Western gulls reside on the coast, mainly between Washington state and Baja California. They seldom fly inland.
This bird has a dark-gray back and wings, yellow eyes, a white chest, belly and head, and pinkish-gray legs and feet. Its average length is 25 inches, it has a 58-inch wingspan, and it weighs about 2.2 pounds. The sturdy, yellow bill has a red dot at which chicks peck in order to stimulate feeding. Isn't that an awesome trait that nature gave to them! A few other species of gulls share the same trait.
Western gulls are not mature until they are 4 years old. When breeding time arrives, the gulls make scrape nests on offshore islands and rocks along the coast. A scrape nest is merely a shallow scooped area the size of the bird's body, lined with a little vegetation. The norm is three eggs laid that are incubated for a month.
The nice way to say scavenger is "opportunistic feeder." The Western gull's eating habit is to dine on anything edible, even if he must be sly or mean by human standards. One research source said these gulls occasionally steal milk from lactating female seals while the mammals sleep on the beach! They will eat eggs and chicks of seabirds. They rob food from seals, gulls, cormorants or pelicans!
Western gulls cannot dive, and therefore must feed on the surface of land or sea. They consume seal or sea-lion carcasses when no other food is available. These aggressive birds even kill pigeons to eat.
Of course, taking handouts from people, soaring over and finding food at landfills and trash receptacles, and eating fish and invertebrates at low tide — anything that's edible will do for their large appetite. Since finding food is never a problem for Western gulls, it's no wonder their average life span is 15 years!
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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