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!

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

  1. 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.

  2. Hello,
    My sister and I saw M54 at Hampton Beach on Sep 15, 2013 in front of the Kentville Hotel! He looked very healthy and well fed. He was obviously the dominant, in charge male. We believe he was the ring leader in the ransacking and subsequent heist of our beach snacks! ha, ha

    • Hi Pam! M54 was originally banded on Appledore as a chick in 2005 – so it’s an old-timer in our project! M54 seems to like the Hampton Beach area as it’s been seen there 10 times since 2005! Usually, it’s seen at hampton in the fall and winter. And, yes, it does seem to be quite adept at stealing people’s snacks! I would apologize, but I don’t have much control over their behavior…. 🙂 Thanks VERY much for your report – I’ve added the information to our database. Feel free to get in touch if you see another banded gull. Best wishes, Julie

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