Mall Gulls

We don’t see many gulls here at the Museum. The place to look for gulls is Jordan Lake, Falls Lake, Lake Crabtree, and mall and fast food restaurant parking lots.

The vast majority of the gulls in our area are Ring-billed Gulls. Tens of Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of the medium sized gulls arrive from the north each year sometime in November and depart in April. A few arrive early and some linger in the spring, but for the most part it’s November through April when the gulls visit us.

A lone Ring-billed Gull soars over the Museum (1/10/13).

The gulls spend the nights on our reserviors and span out during the day to landfills, malls, and wherever else they can find food. They are so often encountered at malls and parking lots that I sometimes call them Mall Gulls. The malls and Mickey D’s are especially busy during stormy days with high winds, particularly with several days of NE winds, when the birds find the parking lots offer them some relief from those winds.

The ring-billeds are not the only gulls here in winter. Bonaparte’s Gulls, Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls are also here, although fewer in number. It’s the Ring-billeds that are seemingly everywhere in our fair state during winter.

Where do all of these gulls come from?

A banding recovery study of the gulls, all North American breeding gulls, from the 1930s – 1976 states that the majority of gulls recovered, in South Carolina at least, were from the New England States and Canada’s Maritime Provinces. The remaining gulls were originally banded in the Great Lakes Region.

That recovery study also suggests that the vast majority of Ring-billed Gulls wintering in the Southeast do so in Florida and Georgia and that South Carolina was the northern limit for wintering ring-billeds.

During the early part of the 20th century the Ring-billed Gull was nearly extirpated in the Great Lakes due to egg hunters (for food) and feather hunters (for the millinery trade). However, cesation of hunting, large argibusiness, and open landfills have made it possible for ring-billeds to bounce back and by 1976 their numbers were up to over 300,000 and have nearly doubled in the Great Lakes Region since then. Their total population is around 2,550,000 across North America.

I suspect many of our winter Ring-billed visitors originate in the Great Lakes. And, I suspect that the increase in human population here in the Piedmont of North Carolina, and the things that go along with the increased human population, like reservoirs, malls and landfills, have caused the gulls to short stop and spend the winter here instead of going further south.

I enjoy watching gulls, it’s one of the things that I miss most about not living near the ocean. I welcome the arrival of the gulls each year and think it would be nice to see them stop in at the Museum once in a while, but I guess I’ll have to settle for an occasional fly-over. Of course, I could always drive on over to Falls or Jordan Lakes to reminisce, or go to the mall.


6 responses to Mall Gulls

  1. Sarah says:

    It sounds silly, but I dearly miss the gulls now that I live here in Durham. We have so many different kinds in New England: Ring-billed, Herring, Greater and Lesser Black-Backed, Bonaparte’s, Black headed and Laughing Gulls. And those are just the routine species. I miss the Harriers, Cormorants and Gannets, too.

    Even the crows (both Fish and American) seem to be fewer in numbers down here.

    When you’re up north, the gulls are almost invisible to most people. They’re part of the scenery, like vultures coasting overhead and hawks on highway light poles.

    • Greg Dodge says:

      Yeah, and they’re calling for a little snow tonight, maybe.

  2. Wendy says:

    When you are out on the ocean, you can watch the gulls AND the buoys…

    • Greg Dodge says:

      Yes, I’ve heard that you can watch gulls and buoys while out on the ocean. Curiously though neither of those, buoys or ring-billed gulls, are found very far out to sea. Buoys, which are meant to guide ships in and out of port are typically anchored within a few miles of shore. There are exceptions, like the weather buoys.
      Likewise, our friends the Ring-billed Gulls are typically found along the coast and inland, far inland, east coast to Oklahoma to west coast inland.
      There are buoys inland as well, on our major rivers, such as the Mississippi, etc., and on our Great Lakes (lesser lakes too).
      Speaking of buoys, did you know that the Coast Guard has ships designated specifically for placing and maintaining buoys. They’re called Buoy Tenders. While most Coast Guard vessels are painted gray or white the hulls of Buoy Tenders are painted black. Of course, they all have the red and blue slant stripe near the bow.

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