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.
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!
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. This 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!