Sep 08 2009
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?”
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)