The adventures of a Euro-Gull

26 01 2009

 

 

European expatriate, the Lesser Black-Backed Gull. Note the vibrant yellow legs!

European expatriate, the Lesser Black-Backed Gull. Note the vibrant yellow legs!

 

Last summer, SEANET’s own Dr. Julie Ellis managed a remarkable feat. The previous year, she had detected a Lesser Black-Backed Gull apparently breeding with a Herring Gull out on Appledore Island in Maine. Lesser Black-Backed Gulls (henceforth referred to as “LBBGs”) normally inhabit the coasts of Europe. While LBBGs are sighted along the US Atlantic coast with some frequency in the winter months, it is nearly unheard of for one to remain on our shores to breed. Julie’s bird stuck around not just that first summer, but returned in 2008 to nest again and fledge a couple of (presumably hybrid) chicks. 

Undaunted by difficult terrain, Julie managed to trap the LBBG and band it with the hopes of learning a bit more about its movements during the off season. The clever bird proved elusive at first, persuading its Herring Gull mate to enter the trap first. Julie took the opportunity to band her as well, but never gave up on the true prize, and ultimately succeeded. 

Dr. Ellis carefully places a sophisticated trap (a bag made of chicken wire) over the LBBGs nest.

Dr. Ellis carefully places a sophisticated trap (a bag made of chicken wire) over the LBBGs nest.

After banding the bird and taking a feather sample for genetic testing, Julie allowed him to go on with his life raising the chicks before he and all the other gulls packed up and left for their wintering grounds. Tense months followed, and no one heard from the LBBG. Until now. 

Michael Brothers, a Florida birder, was out on the beaches in the Sunshine State and sent the following report:

“What a day! Today, 1/21, Alvaro Jaramillo, Bob Wallace and I led a field trip for the Space Coast Birding festival to the Tomoka Landfill, Daytona Beach,Volusia County. The birds were difficult to see, but we did find Thayer’s and Kumlien’s Gulls. Later, we took most of the group to Daytona Beach Shores for the evening fly-in. We were not disappointed. First, we found a banded adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. Alvaro did some research this evening and it turns out that this bird was banded on an island off of New Hampshire and is the second known breeding Lesser Black-backed Gull found in North America outside of Greenland. A celebrity bird on our beach!”

Both Julie’s own data and the published literature suggest that adult Herring Gulls and Great Black-Backed Gulls tend to spend their winters rather close to their breeding grounds. So this LBBG is, in comparison, quite a rolling stone, never content to remain in one place for too long.

The LBBG spends his lazy winter days on the sands of a Florida beach (photo by Michael Brothers)

The LBBG spends his lazy winter days on the sands of a Florida beach (photo by Michael Brothers)

Only time will tell if the LBBG turns up in Maine to breed again. And much patience will be required to see if the banded chicks of the LBBG and Herring Gull pair ever turn up there to breed themselves; gulls typically don’t breed until they are three years old or more. 

Congrats to Julie on this great news! It’s like flinging out a message in a bottle and actually hearing back from someone. SEANET looks forward to finding out what the LBBG’s summer plans are, and will let you all know as soon as we hear!

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31 03 2009
Presumed hybrid gull sighting in Florida! « SEANET Blog

[…] Black-Backed Gull observed mated to a Herring Gull on Appledore Island in Maine last summer (see Adventures of a Euro Gull and Update on Julie’s LBBG). The presumed hybrid chicks raised by the pair were banded by Dr. […]

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