For the Birds Radio Program: Gulls

Original Air Date: April 27, 1992

Reworked from May 19, 1986 (3:41)

Audio missing


They’re everywhere–sitting on lawns on the UMD campus, mooching for french fries at McDonald’s, fishing along the shore, fluttering in white clouds above the harbor. You guessed it–I’m talking about seagulls.


Gulls have influenced American culture. There’s a monument commemorating one species–the California Gull–in Salt Lake City, because this species saved the Mormon settlers from a plague of locusts. A gull is also the subject of the second-best selling fiction book of all time–Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

A person who cheats or dupes someone is said to be gulling him. Someone who allows himself to be duped is gullible. These words might have originated from British egg collectors. Gulls nest in huge colonies. All the adults fly up when disturbed, and so collecting the eggs for food is a cinch–in 1935, over 300,000 gull eggs were marketed in one English city alone.

We all recognize them, and yet not many Duluthians know much about our gulls. Two species regularly summer here–the Herring Gull and the Ring-billed Gull. Both are large scavengers, and adults of both are mostly white with black wingtips. The Herring Gull is a little bigger than the Ring- billed Gull, but size varies quite a bit in both species.

The Ring-billed Gull is the one eating worms and grubs on lawns all over town, sitting on lightposts at Target, and begging at fast food joints. Look at a Ring-bill closely, and you’ll see its yellow legs and the black mark on the bill that gives it its name.

The Herring Gull usually sticks closer to the lake when it’s not dining at garbage dumps. Its legs and feet are pink, and the yellow bill has a small red spot near the tip. (To remember that, think of a red herring.).

The population of gulls has been exploding in Duluth in recent years. Ring-billed Gulls nest in a gigantic colony at the Port Terminal, to the dismay of both the Port Authority and serious birders in town. Not only are the birds a nuisance for the people working in the harbor, but they eat the eggs and young of Common Terns. Last week I even saw one kill and eat a warbler on the wing.

During the past couple of summers, large numbers of Ring-billed Gulls have been found dead and dying, of starvation, it turned out. All the lawns and restaurants in town cannot support such a huge population of birds.

Herring Gulls also pose problems for the city. These gulls eat garbage, and were abundant year-round at the W.L.S.S.D. landfill. This would have been good news–a free garbage-disposal system–except that gulls are as dangerous as terrorists at airports. Airplane collisions with gulls have caused many fatal crashes worldwide. The landfill was closed partly because it was too near to the airport to suit the F.A.A., thanks to our gulls.

So gulls are a beautiful nuisance. If we ever find ourselves overcome by locusts, we may end up singing “Wish They All Could Be California Gulls.”

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”