With a mild clear day forecast for last Wednesday, I made plans with Chris Hill to visit the Horry County landfill to check out gulls and other birds that might be hanging around. The forecast was true and we made our way to the site that morning. We were soon scanning the hordes of gulls looking for various species that were present. The most numerous are always ring-billed gulls, and all age/sex classes were duly noted. Many adult ring-billeds were in fresh breeding plumage, looking quite sharp with brightly colored yellow legs and bills along with red orbitals (eye-rings) and gapes. Numerous herring gulls of all ages/sexes were present, and a number of those adults were also in fresh plumage.
A considerable number of laughing gulls were in attendance, with a few beginning to show their black hoods, but not quite as advanced in their molts as some of the ring-billed and herring gulls. Laughing gull is the only gull species that regularly breeds in our area, and are common summer residents along area beaches. In summer their black hoods, dark gray wings and namesake calls allow for easy identification by even novice birders.
Several adult and a few juvenile lesser black-backed gulls were observed. Although never numerous, these gulls have become annual attendees of the landfill in winter, where they are much easier to spot than on area beaches. A common European species, lesser black-backs started appearing with regularity in winter along the northeastern seaboard some years ago, and have become annual winter visitors as far south as Florida during the season. It is suspected that some may now be breeding in the Canadian maritime provinces.
There was a relatively small number of great black-backed gulls present. With a wingspan approaching 6 feet, these impressive creatures are the largest of the world's gull species. When not feeding or pirating prey from other birds, adults and juveniles will most likely be found resting on higher elevations. Great black-backeds prefer the high ground, presumably for the commanding views offered there. In addition to their scavenging and pirating behaviors, these gulls are also fierce predators, and quite capable of taking other birds species in flight. In fact, all gull species are remarkable for their intelligence and resourcefulness, readily adapting to conditions and resources at hand in order to survive. In addition to scavenging, gulls may be expert at garnering fish, shellfish, insects and other live prey as well as fruits, seeds and grains.
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