Why do gulls always face in one direction?

A flock of ring-billed gulls standing in the Ashbridge's Bay parking lot face towards the Coastworth Cut this week. © BCP 2010

It’s a mystery to me. Why do gulls stand always facing in the same direction? Are they picking up subtle environmental cues? Is there one leader — a sort of alpha gull — that picks the direction in which to stand, and the rest all follow suit? Or do they all just like to feel the wind in their face?  So many questions, so few answers. If anyone knows about the secret life of gulls — in this case ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) — I hope they will let me know.

In the meantime, here’s a bit about what I do know about this omnipresent, omnivorous species. For one thing, there are plenty of them — they enjoy the status of  “least concern” for conservationists. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, it wasn’t always this way. In the 1800s, the lovely feathers of this gull were in such demand for hats that the species was hunted nearly to the point of extirpation. Now though, this gull has recovered and  its breeding range is increasing across North America.

That won’t surprise many folks who live along the shores of the Great Lakes, where these usually noisy birds seem to be everywhere. Most ring-bills, widely known commonly as “seagulls,” see only fresh water their entire lives — they are more commonly found around lakes and ponds than by the sea.

To see a map of the distribution of ring-bills across our continent, click on the Cornell Lab link, above.

© BCP 2010

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