Thom Smith: Gulls help themselves to local fare


Kleptoparasitism probably won't ever be found in The Berkshire Eagle's Word of the Day, so I will briefly explain it as a lead into today's Naturewatch.

Literally, it means parasitism by theft, and gulls are best known for this habit. If you have ever spent time watching gulls along the coast, you may well have seen one drop a mussel, crab or moon snail on an adjacent parking lot (or maybe even on a car). The bird that does the dropping is not always the one that gets the meal; other gulls linger nearby to steal it. I have also watched gulls terrorize a smaller tern that had just successfully caught a small fish until it drops it. Bald eagles are noted for this tactic, also.

"The sea gulls are back at the GEAA's first tee," confirmed an email I received this morning. When daylight broke last Monday morning, I counted 13 of them on the north side of Crane Avenue in Pittsfield. As hard as it is to understand what brings them to this location in late July, I often wonder, year after year, why they never (not that I have seen, anyway) cross the road to the chemical-free lawn behind the homes on Faucett Lane. When golfers spoil their serenity, the gulls head either to one of the three nearby (as gulls fly) lakes or down the hill to the Allendale parking lot, hoping, I am sure for a French fry. Here, we can watch one gull intimidate one that has part of a bun or small cache of French fries until relinquished.

These visiting gulls don't deserve the preface "sea" added to their name. While this species, the ring-billed gull, is common along the coast, many never taste a drop of seawater, as well may be the case with these birds.

According to Cornell University's website (, the species is comfortable around humans, and the birds frequent parking lots, golf courses, garbage dumps, beaches and fields.

These are the gulls you're most likely to see far away from coastal areas -- in fact, most ring-billed gulls nest in the interior of the continent, near freshwater. A black band encircling the yellow bill helps distinguish adults from other gulls.

Gulls in general, ring-billed gulls in particular, are opportunists and will feed on garbage, fish, shellfish, earthworms, mice, grain, fruits and berries (cherries, blueberries, strawberries) and of course, anything provided at fast food restaurants, including jelly doughnuts (that apparently ravens relish -- but that's another story). And, never leave food unattended outside at seafood eateries, even for a minute. They, and other kinds of gulls, are not opposed onion rings smothered in catsup, not to mention fries and clams.

I have not heard of their visiting local bird feeders, yet. Another reason not to feed birds during the summer.

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