Are you 'gullable?'

No, I'm not trying to see if you are gullible enough to think "gullable" is a real word. It isn't. I made it up, so I get to define what it means: An interest in learning about gulls. I realize that you most likely view gulls as pretty much boring, and that no article of mine is going to make you seriously gullable. So let's aim a little lower. I offer a smattering of facts to put your knowledge of gulls well above that of most of your relatives, friends and neighbors.

For starters, calling gulls "seagulls" gives you away as a novice. Although we mostly find our local gulls near salt water, some of their brethren live well inland, far from the sea. California gulls, abundant here this time of year, famously saved the Mormons' crops in Utah from locusts more than a century and a half ago. Herring gulls, seen here occasionally, are common around the Great Lakes.

Gulls are more versatile than most birds on air, sea and land. While flying, their relatively large wings for their body size let them mix energy-saving glides with flapping. They have webbed toes and relatively long legs, making them well suited for both swimming and walking. Most birds with webbed toes are good swimmers but are awkward on land.

Gull plumage trips up quite a few people. You will occasionally overhear people (mis) identifying dark gulls as females and the largely white gulls as males. Those folks are probably thinking gull plumage is like that of ducks. If an analogy would be helpful as a memory aid, think bald eagles, not ducks. With gulls and bald eagles, both sexes have identical plumage. Young birds don't get their prominent white parts until they become adults at 4 years of age or so.

Given the wide diversity among birds, there is often an exception to generalizations like the one above about dark gulls being juveniles. Heermann's gulls are the exception in the gull family. Adults in nonbreeding plumage are dark, but they are easily identified because their bills are red, unlike any other gull. Look for them in summer in the harbor in Port Townsend or on the shore below the bluffs at the Dungeness County Recreation Area. If the bill is red, body dark, but the head is white, they are still in breeding plumage and are probably recent arrivals. They have bred in the south - on islands off Mexico - then migrated northward to enjoy our summer weather.

Our most common local gull is the "Olympic" gull - large with pink legs and a relatively massive bill for a gull. They breed in the thousands on Protection Island. You won't find the name Olympic gull listed in a bird-ID book, however. It was coined in the 1990s by Bob Boekelheide, director of the Dungeness River Audubon Center, and fellow experts. Olympic gulls are hybrids between two species - glaucous-winged and western gulls. The former are common in British Columbia and Alaska, while the latter are common in California.

You will find numerous Olympic gulls throughout the area year-round. They are largely responsible for calling cards left on your cars and shell debris in parking lots such as those at John Wayne Marina. Gulls have learned to crack open mollusks by dropping them on pavement.

People sometimes stop me to tell about seeing gulls of different sizes. I am pleased when people see differences in birds beyond color. Mew gulls, our second most common gull to Olympic gulls in winter, are notably smaller than Olympics - with a more dainty appearance overall, relatively tiny bills and yellow legs.

Flight patterns also vary among our gulls. Bonaparte's gulls are as agile in the air as terns and they dive for small fish, particularly salmon fry. They are our only local gull that nests in trees, breeding in Canada and the arctic. Agile swimmers as well as fliers, they sometimes paddle in circles on the water like phalaropes, plucking insects from the surface.

Having read this far in the article, there is a reasonable chance you are gullable. You can pursue this interest by taking Bob Boekelheide's intermediate birding class "Migrant Shorebirds and Gulls." It meets on Thursday mornings, Sept. 4-18.

Author Dave Jackson is the "Our Birds" series editor and Web master. Send comments to him at editor@ or 360-683-1355. His next introductory bird class, which covers all the local gulls and many other birds, starts Tuesday evening, Sept. 23. Class details, as well as previous articles in this series, are posted on Web site

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