Sep 08 2009

Flying Ants

Published by at 7:44 am under Bird Behavior,Water and Shore

Ring-billed Gull (photo by Chuck Tague)

The gulls wheeled and dipped above the bayside trees.  They were traveling in circles, swooping up, dropping down, zigging left, zagging right.

As I watched them a passerby asked, "What kind of gulls are those and what are they doing?"

They were ring-billed gulls on fall migration from their inland nesting grounds to their coastal winter zone, and they were hawking insects - some kind of flying ants.

I think of gulls as crab and trash eaters so it was fascinating to see them eating flying bugs.  Then I remembered the story of their relatives, the California gulls, in Utah.

The Mormons arrived in Utah in 1847 to establish a religious community near the Great Salt Lake.  Their first crops were nearly ready to harvest the next summer when thousands of "Mormon crickets" (actually a flightless relative of the katydid, Anabrus simplex) swarmed across the countryside.  These insects eat everything in their path - even their fallen comrades - so the Mormons thought their crops would be lost.  But a flock of California gulls arrived and ate the insects.  The Mormons called this the Miracle of the Gulls and named the California gull the state bird of Utah.

Ring-billed gulls haven't done enough to be named a state bird but I am grateful they eat flying ants.  Now that I know to what to look for, I see them hawking insects every fall in Maine.  The flying ants swarm and the gulls do what comes naturally.  They eat them.

(photo by Chuck Tague)

One response so far

One Response to “Flying Ants”

  1. Mandyon 09 Sep 2009 at 8:31 am

    We’re enjoying your Maine reports, Kate.
    No vacation trip for us this year. We visited Acadia National Park several years ago, so reading about your get-away is like a mini-vacation down memory lane…..

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