Keith Mueller, as you may recall, is an avid birder and incredibly talented artist.  He saw Y30, a young Herring Gull banded in July 2013, during a cod fishing trip off the coast of Rhode Island.  On October 3, Keith was on a boat on the southeast corner of Coxes Ledges, approx. 32 miles southeast of Point Judith, Rhode Island.  Y30 was in a flock of approximately 50 gulls that were attracted to a chumline Keith was running that was baited with catfood and beef suet (yum!) to attract Shearwaters and Fulmars.  He posted an account of the day, including beautiful photos of a variety of bird species, at his blog: New England Coastal Birds.

cox ledges, RI


Y30 looking for yummy chum. Photo by Keith Mueller


Nice leg shot of Y30 in flight. Photo by Keith Mueller


In late September 2013, V57 was observed in Rosenhayn, an unincorporated community located within Deerfield, New Jersey.  The bird was reported to the Bird Banding Lab and the “How Found Code” indicated that it was found injured.  I’ve contacted the observer and am hoping to get more details.  V57 has traveled a long distance for its short life:  it was banded as a chick in July 2012 and was seen at Brownsville Municipal Landfill in Texas in February 2013, then in at Reeds Beach in Burleigh, NJ in May 2013, and now at Rosenhayn.   I’ll post an update on the status of this bird as soon as I hear something back.

Jon Worthen had another productive day at Hampton Beach, NH in late September. I’ll just report on a few of the birds he saw.  Jon saw Herring Gull K50 who was banded as a chick in July 2010 and was subsequently observed at Hampton Beach in April, May, & Nov 2012.  It returned to Appledore for the first time since banding (as far as we know) this past summer.  This is the first mainland observation of the bird since the summer.


K50, photo by Jon Worthen


M37 in winter plumage. Photo by Jon Worthen

M37 also showed up at Hampton.  M37 was banded as an adult in May 2012, returned to Appledore during summer 2013, then was seen by Jon W in Jan & Sept 2013.


A first winter X65. Photo by Jon Worthen.

X65 was also at Hampton – this bird was banded as a chick in July 2013 and this is the first time it has been seen on the mainland.

Thanks to everyone for contributing to this week’s resight report!





















In answer to the question posed in the previous post, “why do gulls stare at their feet?,” we received this comment by Phil:

I did read (somewhere) that gulls stare at the ground when they’re torn between two different courses of action and they’re not immediately sure what to do. For example, a gull may see a human with food and be unsure whether to flee a potential predator (as would be the natural response), or approach closer because the gull has learned through experience that some humans will give free food to gulls. It’s like a pause for consideration – maybe something similar to a human scratching his nose or picking beneath his fingernails when in an uncomfortable situation instead of taking action. Or something like that.

Interesting idea!

Another hypothesis comes from Niko Tinbergen, author of the “The Herring Gull’s World.”  For anyone interested in gull behavior, this is a must-have book!  In a section called, Care of the body surface”(pgs 41-42), Tinbergen notes the following:

Lastly, I have often noticed a type of behaviour which might have to do with keeping the feet clean.  In the breeding colony, gulls can often be seen looking down at their feet quite intently, as if inspecting them. Usually nothing more happens, but occasionally they may gently peck at them.  However, I never succeeded in making sure that they picked up anything; if they did, the particles must have been tiny.  Yet the deliberate nature of their looking down to the feet suggests that is has some function.

Are the gulls looking down to inspect their feet or does looking down serve as a “pause” before taking action?  I’ve seen many a gull with very dirty feet looking down at them, but not cleaning them. So, I must say I’m skeptical of Tinbergen’s hypothesis. Perhaps additional study of this topic is needed!


Just in time for Halloween:  The Headless Herring Gull, T76. Photo by Kurt Schwartz.

On to some recent resights we just received from the Bird Banding Lab.  Herring Gull T76 was seen at Cape May, NJ on Sept. 11 by Kurt Schwarz.  Kurt apologized that he took photos focused only on the legs, but these photos are still very useful!  It’s always good to have photo confirmation of a band reading.  T76 was banded in July 2010 and was seen at Cape May in July of 2011 and again in August and September 2013.  Seems that this bird may have settled in the New Jersey area.

We received two reports of hatch-year birds that were injured and had to be euthanized.  Great Black-backed Gull 9J9 was banded in July 2013 and was submitted to the wildlife rehabilitation center, Center for Wildlife, on Sept 5 with a fractured mandible. Unfortunately, fractures were too extensive to be fixed and the bird was euthanized.  Herring Gull, Z86, also banded in July 2013, was found with a broken wing in a parking lot in Jamaica Plain, Boston.  One Sept 8, the bird was sent to the MSPCA in Boston for possible rehabilitation, but the wing injury was irreparable.

In cheerier news, Herring Gull M23 was observed in Chatham, MA in late August, 2013.  This bird was banded as a chick in July 2011 and the only other time it has been seen was in mid-July 2012 at Huguenot Memorial Park, Jacksonville, Florida.  Huguenot park, FLThis is a pattern for some young gulls that spend their first year of life wandering far away from the Northeast. Like M23, some of them make their way back north by their 2nd or 3rd year.

Keep those resights coming in!

Posted by: jellis04 | September 20, 2013

A fish thief, “Mr. T,” and a banner day for Jon Worthen

Steve Mirick, avid birder and kindred larophile, reported seeing Great Black-backed Gull, 7J1, repeatedly stealing discards from cleaned fish at the boat dock at Rye Harbor in New Hampshire.

7J1 prying fish parts from a bin of discards. Photo by Steve Mirick

7J1 prying fish parts from a bin of discards. Photo by Steve Mirick

Steve says the fishermen kept chasing 7J1 away, but the bird kept coming back.  Gulls are nothing if not tenacious!  7J1 was banded in July 2013 and this is the first time it’s been seen on the mainland.  Steve was the person who first noted the Lesser Black-backed Gull roosting on Appledore Island in September 2006.  It was summer 2007 when the LBBG started nesting on the island.

Norm Cox and Linda Stesienko saw Herring Gull T47, whom they’ve dubbed “Mr. T,” at Odiorne State Park in Rye, NH on Sept 17 and 18.

"Mr. T," otherwise known as T47.  Photo by Norm Cox.

“I pity the fool who doesn’t share their snacks!” (sorry, I was afflicted with bad 80s TV) Photo by Norm Cox.

T47 was unabashedly begging for handouts.  Norm and Linda said they saw T47 bow his head and stare at the ground for 2 to 5 seconds.  They wondered why the bird did this.  Well, this is a question that has come up many times out on Appledore – why do gulls stare at their feet?? Are they checking to see if their feet are still there?  Are they looking to see if an egg or chick are down there?  Maybe they are simply draining their salt gland.  The salt gland is a kidney-like organ located above a gull’s eye sockets.  The gland removes excess salt – derived from marine prey and water – from the bloodstream then excretes the salt byproduct as a fluid through the bill.  When the fluid drips out, it gives the appearance of a runny nose or drooling.

Any additional thoughts on why gulls stare at the ground?

Finally, Jon Worthen who frequently looks for banded gulls at Hampton Beach, NH, saw 11 gulls on one day this week – GO Jon!  Some of these birds were banded as chicks in 2013 and this is the first time they’ve been seen on the mainland.

A young Y49.  Photo by Jon Worthen

Y49 hatched in 2013. Photo by Jon Worthen

A gangly-looking Z23. Photo by Jon Worthen

A gangly-looking Z23 also hatched in 2013. Photo by Jon Worthen


R23 was  banded as a chick in July 2012 and this is the first time it’s been seen since.

R23 in its second winter.  Note the difference in plumage between this bird and Z23 and Y49! Photo by Jon Worthen

R23 in its second Fall. Note the difference in plumage between this bird and the hatch-years, Z23 and Y49. Photo by Jon Worthen

Jon has seen some of the other birds at Hampton several times.  For example, K68, was banded as an adult in 2011 and has been seen at Hampton six times since then.

K68 and its persistent abscess.

K68 and its persistent abscess.

This bird still has the intermandibular abscess it had when it was banded, and it seems to be doing just fine.  Finally, M54, an old-timer with the project, was banded as a chick in 2005, returned to Appledore in summer 2009, and has been seen there every summer since nesting in the same area.

M54 at 8 years old.  Photo by Jon Worthen.

M54 at 8 years old. Photo by Jon Worthen.

M54 is one of the growing number of birds banded as chicks that have returned to nest as adults.  There are lots of questions related to these returning birds:  Do males return to breed more often than females hatched on Appledore (as suggested by the literature)? Do birds return to nest near the territory where they were hatched?  How does reproductive success of these birds change over time as they learn the ropes?  Does the return rate differ between the two gull species?  We hope to get at some of these questions in the coming years.

Thanks, Jon, for your outstanding photos and resights!

Posted by: jellis04 | September 13, 2013

The resights are rolling in!

Happy September!  August and September are months during which we start to receive resights of banded fledglings.  These birds have managed to survive the critical weeks from hatching to fledging and are starting to make their way in the big wide world.  For instance, Herring Gull Y54 was banded as a chick in July 2013, and was observed on Sept 5 in a parking lot on Front Street in Elizabeth, NJ by police officer, Anthony Chodan.

Y54 in NJ

Y54 posing as an extra large pigeon in NJ. Photo by Officer Chodan.

Y54 location

In addition to resights of newly fledged birds, we’ve also received several recent observations of birds that were banded in previous years.  M99, a Herring Gull banded as a chick in July 2012 was observed on Aug 1, 2013 at Appledore by Allie Nadler.  Ten days later, the same bird was spotted on Plum Island by Jim Ries.   On Aug 22, M99 was observed by Caralee Gatley at Salisbury State Park in Salisbury, MA.


Action shot of M99 taken by Caralee Gatley.

Jillian Pereira saw M99 again at Salisbury on Sept 7.  This bird appears to like the Massachusetts area!  Wonder if it will return to Appledore to nest in the future?

Great Black-backed Gull, 7F8 was banded as a chick in July 2009 and had not been observed again until Kelsey Molloy spotted it at Race Point Beach in Provincetown, MA – great resight, Kelsey!


Nice leg shot of 7F8 by Kelsey Molloy.

Finally, Herring Gull L52 has made several appearances on the mainland since it was banded as a chick in July 2011.  L52 was seen by Jon Worthern at Hampton Beach, NH in Nov 2012 and February 2013.  Then, Jon Woolf saw L52 at Hampton in March 2013 and Jon Worthen saw it there again in April.  These two Jons have contributed MANY resights during the past couple of years!  Jon Woolf and Sharon Schneider saw L52 again at Hampton in August 2013.


A mottled L52 with a puffy cheek at Hampton Beach. Photo by Jon Woolf.

Keep the resights comin’!  We’re gearing up to do an analysis of adult survival, so stay tuned for some more results soon.

Posted by: jellis04 | August 30, 2013

Miscellaneous resights and a brief summary of 2013

Pam Boutilier (Coastal Coordinator and Celia’s Garden caretaker at the Shoals Marine Laboratory) saw Herring Gull A75 at Hampton Beach, NH on August 10.  When Pam sent me the observation, I asked her to confirm that her band reading was correct because A75 was banded as a chick in 2005 and, prior to Pam’s observation, had not been seen since! This bird is now 8 years old, but as far as we know, has not returned to nest on the island.  Why do some birds return to breed on Appledore and others do not?  Obviously, some birds do not live long enough to return to breed. In cases where a bird is alive and not returning to Appledore, there is another explanation. Other studies indicate that male gulls tend to breed at or near the location where they were hatched, whereas females tend to follow males to breeding sites. A female from Appledore might return to breed on Appledore if she followed a male who was also hatched there. Alternatively, she could meet a male hatched at another location and follow him to that site.  Is A75 a female who has been nesting with a male at another location? For the past few years, we’ve collected blood from all the gulls we band, so we’ll be able to determine the sex of the birds using genetic analysis.  As our resight dataset grows, we’ll soon be able to address this type of question.  Keep sending in your resights!

Herring Gull V57 has had an interesting year so far.


V57 at Brownsville landfill. Photo by Martin Reid.

This bird was banded as a chick in July 2012, was observed at Brownsville Municipal Landfill in Brownsville, TX in February 2013, and then seen at Reeds Beach in Burleigh, NJ in May 2013!  Generally, it’s thought that hatch-year gulls disperse relatively long distances from the location where they hatched. Is this a general rule for Appledore gulls?  The more off-island resights we accumulate, the better equipped we will be to answer this question.

4R8 also had a noteworthy off-island resight this year. This bird was banded as an adult in 2004 (thus, it is at least 14 yrs old) and has been seen on the island every year except 2010.  Did it skip that year or did we just miss it during our island surveys?  No one had reported seeing 4R8 off the island until March 2013 when it was seen by Antione Turcotte-Van De Rydt at Parc Lucien-Blanchard, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada.  We’ve had fewer than 20 resights in Canada and the vast majority have been Great Black-backed Gulls.


A brief summary of 2013:

This year, we’ve received observations of 95 individual gulls off the island – some gulls were seen more than once, so the total number of resights is actually 112.  Appledore gulls have been observed in CT (3 reports), DE (3), FL (4), ME (3), MA (23), NH (50), NJ (7), NY (10), RI (3), SC (1), TX (2) as well as Quebec (1).  Two birds were seen offshore on fishing boats.  Most birds seen off-island in 2013 were only observed once; a few were seen multiple times.  Herring Gull L52, banded as a chick in 2011, was seen on beaches in Hampton, NH in February, March, April and August.


L52 in April 2013. Photo by Jon Woolf.

Some birds seen in 2013 have been observed at the same off-island locations for several years.  Herring Gull C17, for example, was banded as a chick in 2005 and was seen at Jenness Beach, NH every year from 2006 – 2009 and Hampton Beach, NH every year from 2010 – 2013.  2E2 is a “regular” at Plum Island, MA. 2E2 was banded in 2006 and has been seen in the Plum Island area >20 times almost every winter since.  Some birds, like 2E2, show striking site fidelity during the non-breeding season.

We’ll provide more data summaries in the coming months.  Stay tuned!


Plum Island – 2E2′s favorite overwintering site.


Posted by: jellis04 | August 20, 2013

A mainland resight of an old friend and drama on the colony

Some interesting happenings in the world of banded Appledore gulls.

In mainland resight news:  we received a report from Sharon who saw Great Black-backed Gull 7A3 on Aug 8, 2013 at the Fox Run Plaza in Newington, NH.  7A3 was hanging around the end of the parking lot between Trader Joes and McDonalds.  Sharon said that the bird was in a hunched position with fishing line hanging out of its mouth.

7A37A3 was originally banded near Kiggins Commons (the island dining hall) as an adult in 2005 and has been observed on the island every summer since then.  In fact, the gull resight team chased 7A3 out of Kiggins Commons this past May. Assuming that 7A3 started nesting around 5 yrs of age (typical for a Great Black-backed Gull), this bird is at least 13 years old. 7A3 was seen in May and mid-July of 2013 looking healthy.  However, Allie Nadler saw it on July 30 with a fish hook in its bill.

Who knows where or how the gull was hooked, but we see this all too often.  We’re very sad to see this happen to an old friend.

In happier news, Bill Clark and Allie Nadler had a very interesting on-island resight during their recent stint on Appledore.  They saw Herring Gull N72 on the roof of PK (see map tab). N72 was banded as a chick and later observed by Julie Cotton, summer research intern in 2008 and now a graduate student at the University of California at Davis. In 2008, there was a pair of rogue GBBGs who either lost their nest or never had one.  Their original territory was near Laighton, but over the course of the summer they “conquered” more and more territory, moving down the trail toward Founders and attacking all the nesting Herring Gulls along the way.   Julie describes a very strange thing that happened along the way:

 Somewhere, at some point during the carnage, a HERG chick appeared in the company of the GBBG adults. Amazingly enough, and against our expectations, they didn’t attack it — they had adopted it! The pair doted over the HERG as if it were their own, raising it all the way to fledging. No  one really knows where the HERG chick came from. Did a mischievous student at the lab do an egg swap? Did the GBBG duo massacre the HERG’s parents and adopt the orphaned chick? Unfortunately no one saw the moment of adoption, so we still don’t know how it happened. But however it went down, the end result was a fascinating case of cross-species adoption (and a rather amusing sight as the two hulking GBBGs gently cared for their “baby”).


If N72 returns to Appledore to nest in the future, it will be fascinating to see which species it ends up choosing to nest with!

Posted by: jellis04 | August 13, 2013

A thank-you and a far flung resight


Bill Clark hard at work looking for gull bands

First, I would like to take a moment to thank a couple of folks who were on Appledore conducting banded gull resights during the week of Jul 31 – Aug 7.  Bill Clark has been volunteering for the gull project since he came to us as an Earthwatch volunteer in 2005.  Bill has since spent every summer helping to band new birds and resight previously-banded birds. He has contributed thousands of data points and has been the heart and soul of the project through the years.

Allie Nadler, an undergraduate student at Drew University, worked with Bill to record observations of banded gulls during the week, and had this to say about her time at the Shoals Marine Lab:

The ability for an undergrad to be able to learn first hand about field research is a blessing but also the island brings so many people from different walks of life together who all have this commonality of loving science in some form or fashion.  In one day you can strike up a conversation about the habits of the seals on Duck Island, the potential the waves have for generating electricity and the beauty and tragedy that is life in the gull colony expressed through the slightly altered soundtrack of Les Miserables.


Bill and Allie spent the week doing surveys for banded gulls over the entire island.  They also conducted “roof top surveys” each evening, which entail walking the same route around campus and writing down any bands of birds that are roosting atop the buildings.  These roof top surveys can sometimes yield resights of juvenile birds that are prospecting for potential nest sites in future seasons.  These prospectors often appear later in the breeding season and roost in the intertidal and on buildings where they are out of the way of territorial adults.  Allie and Bill also did some surveys of nests that were being monitoring by the summer field ornithology interns, Michelle Moglia and Taylor Heaton both undergraduate students at Cornell University. Michelle and Taylor kept wonderful blogs describing their summer adventures.  Taylor’s is here and Michelle’s here.  I particularly enjoyed Taylor’s description of gull chick banding week.

Thanks to Bill and Allie for their hard work!

Onto a resight report.  Nathan Gatto, co-owner (with his fiance, Sarah Clark) of Wright’s Backyard Birding Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina reported an Appledore gull in North Carolina.  Nathan and Sarah were birding Hatteras, NC in December of 2012 when they observed Great Black-backed Gull, 6V5.

6V56V5 was banded as a chick in July of 2012 and this is the first time the bird has been observed since it was banded.  We have only two other resights of Appledore gulls in North Carolina, both of which were Great Black-backed Gulls.  Nathan says that he and Sarah enjoy looking for rare and unusual birds all over the Atlantic coast. In fact, he is trying to figure out a plan to see the Bar-tailed Godwit in VA right now.

Thanks to Nathan and Sarah for this great resight!

Posted by: jellis04 | July 30, 2013

Adventurers looking for banded gulls

In the coming months, Jamie Anderson, her husband and their four kids (ages 7-13) will be sailing in the Chesapeake Bay area then heading south to the Caribbean (I know – a real sob story).  chesapeake to caribbean

The Andersons are going to report any banded gull they see along their way, so stay tuned for potential reports from them.  Jamie and her family heard of the Appledore gull banding project through a new and very exciting citizen science project called, Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation.  The ASC asks adventure athletes who are traveling around the world to collect data as they explore.  The data they collect go to researchers who need help getting expensive, time consuming and difficult-to-reach information from remote corners of the globe.  Adventurers working with ASC are helping scientists with all sorts of projects including: collecting diatoms from rivers on the Indian subcontinent, recording observations of mammals at high elevations on Mount Kilimanjaro, and collecting sediments and moss from the Caspian and Aral Seas.  Our humble little gull project is now listed as one of the ASC opportunities!

ASC is just one of many opportunities for citizens to make significant contributions to our understanding of the natural world.


Speaking of citizen science:  If you are interested in helping scientists track banded California Brown Pelicans, and potentially winning a spotting scope in the process, check out International Bird Rescue’s Banded Pelican Sighting Contest.  IBR is looking for volunteers on the west coast to search for Brown Pelican’s wearing blue field readable leg bands. The banded pelicans have been rehabilitated in wildlife hospitals and biologists are interested in knowing where the birds go and how long they survive after they are released.  Significant resources are put toward rehabilitating these birds. Therefore, the hospital staff are extremely interested in knowing what happens to them upon release into the wild.






Posted by: jellis04 | July 25, 2013

Some fabulous photos (and resight) of 1M8

Keith Mueller, artist and natural historian (, observed one of our banded Great Black-backed Gulls, 1M8, in May 2013. Keith was cod fishing offshore Gloucester, MA at Tillies Bank when he spotted 1M8 hanging around the boat.

Tillies Bank1M8 stayed with the vessel a short time as they headed back to Gloucester.  Keith says he only saw it for 15 minutes. Somehow, in that brief window of opportunity, Keith managed to take some spectacular photos, which he kindly shared with us. We have only a handful of resights of Appledore gulls offshore, and all of these birds have been Great Black-backed Gulls. Great Black-backed Gulls are thought to be more “oceanic” than Herring Gulls, so our data (albeit a very small sample size) fit this pattern. As we acquire additional resights, we will be in an even better position to test this and other assumptions regarding gull biology.  Send us your resights!

Back to 1M8.  This bird was banded as a breeding adult at its nest in May 2012, and this is the first observation of it off Appledore.  Thanks, Keith, for the interesting resight and fantastic photos!



Posted by: scourc01 | July 18, 2013

A thank you from a gull team member

North Shore students Sarah Nesbitt and Nick Lovasco get ready to band a bird.

North Shore students Sarah Nesbitt and Nick Lovasco get ready to band a bird.

Sarah Courchesne here, just home after a week’s worth of hard-driving gull banding. We caught and banded over 400 birds (both Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls) and got blood and oral and cloacal swabs for over 200 Herring Gulls for an avian influenza study at MIT.

Joining us on Gull Team this week were two students from North Shore Community College in Danvers, MA. Both were sponsored on the trip by a generous donor who paid their week’s room and board and made their participation possible.

One of them, Nick Lovasco, sent this thank you letter to his benefactor, and, with his permission,  I share it with you in its entirety here:

I would like to thank you for your immense generosity in granting me the opportunity to travel to Appledore Island for gull banding week.  As I write this letter, I am freshly showered and in some odd way already miss the stench of my sweaty baseball cap, rotten sneakers, and gull feces. It feels exhilarating beyond words to reflect on everything that just happened.

Before arriving, I had never touched a wild animal and never understood exactly how science was brought from the bushes to my biology textbook.  After the experience at Shoals, both facts are thankfully no longer true.  On the first day of banding, I was expecting a couple of lessons, a general tutorial, or maybe even a PowerPoint lecture on how to pluck a chick from its nest and put bands around the tiny feet.

However, there was something much stronger there to give me instruction and ease my nerves; a brilliant team consisting of careful doctors, field workers, veteran bird watchers, vet school students, and absolutely inspiring undergraduate interns.  Each and every one of them took me under their wing (pun intended), and gave to me an entirely new perspective on not only gulls, but our responsibility to care for our world’s ecology that all too often becomes taken for granted.

The learning was not done in the classroom, but under continually changing conditions with real concerns, and a completely new vocabulary.  Previously, I lived in a world of one gull; a seagull, a bird that I believed was to be dealt with at the beach rather than vigorously  studied.   Now, I live in a world of Herring Gulls and Black Backs, two species who live amongst each other and are remarkably territorial.  They are birds who do more than dig deep into our trash cans, but have a dramatic effect on wildlife across many different levels.

Although I was only on the island for five days, I received a lasting taste of what actually goes into scientific research.  I have seen through a small scope just how much time, dedication, and effort goes into gathering the information that we so desperately need in order to wrap our hearts and minds around even the smallest phenomena in our delicate ecosystem.  I was also able to meet other students and volunteers from across the globe who were movingly invested in such a wide array of studies on marine life and ornithology.  They possess a truly special  brand of passion that I have rarely seen matched anywhere else.

The adventure I had on Appledore Island is one that I will be telling people about for years to come, but unfortunately, only those who have visited the island will understand my excitement and enthusiasm.  I would like to thank you again for making all of these great memories possible.


Yours sincerely,

Nick Lovasco

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