A Jersey gull, two farewells, and M23 coming home to roost (and nest?)

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!

6 thoughts on “A Jersey gull, two farewells, and M23 coming home to roost (and nest?)

  1. I’ve been trying to remember where it was that I read about the meaning of ‘foot staring’ in gulls, but I’ve come up a blank. It may have been from a book, the name of which I’ve long forgotten, several years ago. Although, I’ve searched the web and I’ve managed to find a couple of pages that allude to the same thing I was talking about…

    Before I even looked this up, the term ‘displacement behaviour’ was familiar to me in relation to this and came immediately to mind.

    “Like many bird species in the islands, they seem unfazed by human observation, though they show a unique “displacement behavior” — like nail-biting or head scratching in humans, an action undertaken when one doesn’t really know what else to do. In the Swallow-tail, this displacement behavior takes the form of foot-watching: the bird will stop and simply stare at its feet for a moment or two, perhaps longer, as if contemplating the need for a new pair of shoes, or whether a manicure might soon be necessary.”

    “Foot watching is a common behaviour of gulls in general, including our rather odd one, and this behaviour is thought to be an appeasement display. Sometimes this is exaggerated to the point where the bird looks back through its legs, perhaps indicating a greater degree of discomfort. It also appears to be a displacement activity, one that is done when the bird is not sure what to do, like biting nails is for a human.”

  2. Pingback: Why do gulls stare at their feet? | Lyman V. Rutledge Marine Laboratory

    • Hi Julie!

      Thanks very much for reporting this bird! T76 was banded as a chick in July 2010 – since then the bird was observed at cape may (and nowhere else!) in July 2011, August 2013, and September 2013. seems to have settled into that location! It’s great to know T76 is still alive and doing okay – I’ve added your observation to our database. Thanks VERY much!! Best wishes, Julie

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