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  • Writer's pictureRobert Loewendick

Sea Gulls in Ohio?

Each winter here in east-central Ohio, I hear someone ask, “What are all these sea gulls doing here? Are they lost?” Well, the white, vocal birds in question are gulls, not necessarily “sea” gulls”, but they are gulls. Gulls are entertaining as they dive to the surface of the water making valiant attempts to spear an unsuspecting shad to serve as a cold-water meal.

The gulls cruising over and on water bodies are either Herring gulls or Ring-billed gulls. Both species are common around Ohio’s waterways, especially the Ring-billed gull. The Herring gull prefers the northern region of the Buckeye state, primarily along the shores of Lake Erie. Both gull species are found throughout the United States, which supports the fact they are not necessarily sea gulls.

The gulls that visit, and actually nest here, are adaptable by nature. They feed on various types of food scraps left behind by humans. It’s not uncommon to see a flock of gulls diving at an automobile parked at a fast food restaurant, waiting for a hand out consisting of a French fry or bread crumbs – please don’t offer a gull anything to eat as human hand-outs create health issues for the birds.

The gull’s natural diet includes fish, small salamanders, rodents, insects, and even a small bird if the opportunity presents itself. As with most wildlife species, members of the gull family have adapted to the change of habitat. As human sprawl presses its way to edges ponds, lakes and rivers, the gull has become less timid of people in search of food.

Adult Ring-bills are larger than they look from a distance. An adult sports a wingspan of nearly four feet and a body length of 20 inches. If you get the opportunity to have a look up close at a gull, there are a few differences in the Herring and Ring-billed gulls. The Ring-billed gull has bluish-gray feathers covering its back and shoulders. Its wings are decorated with black feathers at the tips with a few erratically placed white spots. The Ring-bill gull has yellow legs, which stick out against the white belly while taking off in flight. The most obvious marking to inform the viewer of which species their looking at is the black ring around the gulls bill, hence - Ring-billed Gull.

A marking on the Herring Gull that is most noticeable, is the brightly-colored pink feet and legs. The Herring Gull is more aggressive than the Ring-billed Gull, especially during breeding or nesting season. When eggs are laid, normally in mid-April, the gull parents will not hesitate to “dive bomb” a person to protect its young. All of the gull species are a flock, or social type of bird. When a flock of gulls are interacting together they become very vocal, either a means of communication or simply excited to be together. The gulls of Ohio are an interesting sight, especially displayed against the drab colors of winter. Their brightly-colored feathers are a pleasant addition to our “salt-less” waterways.

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