A Moment to Think About Our State Bird

A Moment to Think About Our State Bird: California Gull, Courtesy and Copyright 2003 Jack Binch - All Rights Reserved
Callifornia Gull
Larus californicus
Courtesy and Copyright 2003 Jack Binch
All Rights Reserved

Utah’s state bird is is commemorated as the seagull, more accurately the the California Gull. Known in Utah for having saved the pioneers from the Mormon cricket invasion of 1848 and subsequent years, gulls hold a hallowed place in local history.

Seagull is a generic term referring to gulls of all types. Gulls we are familiar with range from the small 11-inch Bonaparte’s gull with a 32-inch wingspan to the 20-inch Herring gull with a 55-inch wingspan. They are white, grey and some have black heads. Young go through phases giving them different appearances as they mature over two to four years depending upon the species.

Many Gulls migrate to parts of Utah and some pass through in their migration to more northern regions. Ring-billed gulls are here during the fall, winter, and spring. The occasional Herring or Thayer’s gull may visit us in winter. A few black-headed Bonaparte’s gulls pass through reliably in spring and fall during migration. Upon rare occasions, we are even visited by Herrman’s, Western, Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, Mew, yellow-footed , Sabine’s, Iceland, and lesser black-backed gulls.

In spring, the California gulls and the much smaller and black-headed Franklin’s gulls return to nest. They migrate from southern states or the pacific coast and raise their young locally on islands in fresh and salt water.

Gulls clean up. They frequent garbage dumps, and irrigated, plowed or manure-covered fields. These carnivores eat insects, worms, crustaceans, fish and the occasional french fry in a parking lot. Opportunistic, they watch and raid unprotected nests of other birds, eating eggs and young. Sometimes flying singly, they are more often found in flocks. In flocks they defend against predators by harassment and intimidation.

Thayer’s and Herring gulls have been known to use tools. They have been seen dropping shellfish on asphalt or concrete roads to crack them open and eat the contents.

At the store, take a moment to think about our state bird. In the dump, and in waterways, gulls can become entrapped in six-pack rings. Do your part to prevent this by cutting up these plastic rings before disposing of them. Or better yet, buy cans loose or in boxes instead of rings.

A Moment to Think About Our State Bird: Credits

Photos: Courtesy and © copyright 2003 Jack Binch, as found on www.Utahbirds.org

Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society: Lyle Bingham and Dick Hurren

A Moment to Think About Our State Bird: Additional Reading:

Utah Symbols – California gull

Utah State Bird – Sea Gull(The California gull, Larus californicus), Utah’s Online Library, Utah State Library Division, Utah Department of Heritage & Arts, https://www.utah.gov/about/symbols.html

Bonaparte’s Gull, Larus philadelphia

Bonaparte’s gull Larus philadelphia, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i0600id.html

Bonaparte’s Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bonapartes_Gull

Herring Gull, Larus argentatus

Herring gull Larus argentatus, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i0510id.html

Herring Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Herring_Gull

Herring Gull(Flying Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsD-K/HerringGull3.htm

California gull, Larus californicus

California gull Larus californicus, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0530id.html

California Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/California_Gull

California Gull(Adults Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsA-C/CaliforniaGull.htm

California Gull(Close-up Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsA-C/CaliforniaGull2.htm

Franklin’s gull, Larus pipixcan

Franklin’s gull Larus pipixcan, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0590id.html

Franklin’s Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Franklins_Gull

Thayer’s gull, Larus thayeri
(Note: Reclassified in 2017 as Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides)

Thayer’s gull Larus thayeri, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i0518id.html

Iceland Gull (Thayer’s), eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://ebird.org/species/thagul

Iceland Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Iceland_Gull

California Gull(Juveniles Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsS-Z/ThayersGull2.htm

Handbook of the Birds of the World 3: 609. Lynx Edicions. Larus thayeri (TSN 176828). Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved on 10 March 2006.

Ring-billed gull, Larus delawarensis

Ring-billed gull Larus delawarensis, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0540id.html

Ring-billed Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Ring-billed_Gull

Mew Gull, Larus canus

Mew gull Larus canus, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0550id.html

Mew Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mew_Gull

Mew gull(Front Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsL-R/MewGull.htm

Glaucous-winged Gull, Larus glaucescen

Glaucous-winged gull Larus glaucescen, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/infocenter/i0440id.html

Glaucous-winged Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Glaucous-winged_Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull(Adults Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsD-K/GlaucousWingedGull.htm

Sabine’s Gull, Xema sabini

Sabine’s gull Xema sabini, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/infocenter/i0620id.html

Sabine’s Gull(Breeding Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsS-Z/SabinesGull.htm

Handbooks & References

Bridgerland Audubon Checklist of Birds, http://www.bridgerlandaudubon.org/checklist.htm

Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America ISBN 0-679-45121-8 Bull, John; Farrand, Jr., John (April 1984).

The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-41405-5.

Roadrunner in a Tree

Click for a larger view of a Greater Roadrunner on a Joshua Tree, Beaver Dam Slope in Washington County, UT. Courtesy and Copyright 2013 Jeff Cooper
Roadrunner on Joshua Tree
Geococcyx californianus
Beaver Dam Slope, Washington County, UT
Courtesy & Copyright 2013 Jeff Cooper
Neovistabirding.blogspot.com

“A roadrunner up in a tree? Couldn’t be!” was the comment I got upon describing this unusual sighting to some BLM employees in St. George, Utah. But sure enough, there it was, most likely a juvenile trying out it’s new wings as it’s lesser siblings scrambled through the desert scrub near a wet hollow. I too was amazed to see this quirky bird in a tree, but then stories I had accumulated from those who have lived in roadrunner territory bore testimony to its strange ways.

Their ungainly and rather comical appearance, combined with their eccentricities, have endeared them to many, and find myself no exception. And yes, as you have heard, they are very quick on their feet attaining sustained ground speeds of 17 MPH, not quite as fast as Canis Latrans, the wily coyote. Another peculiarity- for whatever reason, they have a propensity for running into buildings, perhaps hoping to corner their prey.

A member of the cuckoo family, the Roadrunner is uniquely suited to the hot desert environment found in southern Utah. This is because of a number of physiological and behavioral adaptations. Its carnivorous habits offer it a large supply of very moist food. It reabsorbs water from its feces before excretion. A nasal gland eliminates excess salt instead of using the urinary tract like most birds. An it reduces its activity 50% during the heat of midday.

Its extreme quickness allows the roadrunner to snatch a humming bird or dragonfly from midair. Snakes, including rattlers, are another favorite food. Using its wings like a matador’s cape, a roadrunner snaps up a coiled rattlesnake by the tail, cracks it like a whip and repeatedly slams its head against the ground until lifeless. It then swallows its prey whole, but is often unable to swallow the entire length at one time. This does not stop the Roadrunner from its normal routine. It will continue to meander about with the snake dangling from its mouth, consuming another inch or two as the snake slowly digests.

I can scarcely wait for my next encounter with the roadrunner!

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy and Copyright 2013 Jeff Cooper Jeff Cooper
Neovistabirding.blogspot.com

Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society: Jack Greene

For More Information:

Desert USA – The Roadrunner, http://www.desertusa.com/road.html (accessed 22 July 2008)
Animal Diversity, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, Geococcyx californianus –
greater roadrunner, http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Geococcyx_californianus.html

The Occupants on Robin Street

The Occupants on Robin Street: American Robin, Courtesy US NPS, Will Elder, Photographer
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
Courtesy US NPS
Will Elder, Photographer
NPS American Robin
Hi, I’m Dick Hurren from the Bridgerland Audubon Society in Cache Valley.

Isn’t it interesting how shopping centers and housing developments are named after things that used to be: Fair Meadows Court, Rustic Drive, White Pines Lane, Riverwoods, Apple blossom Circle. There is one place that is named for its current occupants: Robin Street.

The American Robin is one of the most adapted birds to human development. It is also one of the most recognized. Robin redbreast is found not only by the stream, but in back yards, and city parks. We see them hopping across lawns, cocking their heads to see close up and picking out juicy worms. They also feast on cherries and other fruits. They can be seen and heard high in trees or on house peaks identifying their territory. Think about how they were in the past, pulling worms from a meadow and eating native berries. They actually have it better now.

They interact near us most often during breeding season. Robins build nests in trees or on sheltered ledges and platforms on buildings.

Both parents work to build the nest from sticks, thread, mud, and other available materials. The grass inner lining is soft against a woven-mud-covered bowl. Nest building is completed about 10 days before eggs are laid. The eggs are laid, one per day until a clutch of 3 or 4 fill the nest. The eggs define the pale blue-green color “Robin’s egg blue”.

The female sets on the eggs about two weeks until the young hatch blind and featherless. Mother and more often the father feeds the young. In another two weeks they are fully feathered and trying their wings. While the male feeds the young the female can be building another nest. Robins can produce 2 or 3 broods a year.

The robin’s size and shape is so well known that they are used as a standard to compare other birds.

But its a rough life being a robin. Only 40 percent of the nests built successfully rear a brood. Of the young hatched, 25 percent live through November. Although a robin may live up to 14 years, in any given year, only about half of the robins alive will live until the next year. Lawn chemicals and uncontrolled pets are part of the robin’s equation of life and death. The population of robins turns over on average every 6 years.

Robins roost in groups, except during the season when the females are setting on the nest. Males always roost in groups. After breeding, the nestlings and females join the male flock. Flocks of robins don’t frequent backyards as much in winter as they do in the nesting season. Some robins migrate, but some also live year-round in the same location. Robins remain in flocks until the spring nesting season when they again divide up into pairs and return to parks, back yards and Robin street.

For Wild About Utah I’m Dick Hurren.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy of National Park Service, US Department of the Interior www.nps.gov/prsf/naturescience/american-robin.htm

Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society

For More Information:

http://www.norcrossws.org/html/robins2.htm

Complete Birds of North America, Jonathan Alderfer, ed. National Geographic, 2006

http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/robin/NestBox.html

http://www.wild-bird-watching.com/Robins.html

http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/warobin.asp


http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/American_Robin.html

Kelly, Patrick, A Moral Dilemma, Wild About Utah, June 29, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/a-moral-dilemma/

Bengston, Anna, Robins in Winter, Wild About Utah, March 13, 2014, https://wildaboututah.org/robins-in-winter/

Bengston, Anna, American Robin, Wild About Utah, January 18, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/american-robin-160118/

Dancing with the Grebes

Dancing with the Grebes: Clark's Greebes Courtesy US FWS Dave Menke, Photographer
Clark’s Greebes
Courtesy US FWS
Dave Menke, Photographer
Is “Dancing with the Stars” coming to Utah in June? Not exactly, but a spirited quick-step is underway across the marshes, lakes and ponds of northern Utah this spring. The contestants are waterfowl, the Western Grebe and Clark’s Grebe. These birds have just flown in from a winter spent on the salt water bays and estuaries along our Pacific Coast. Choosing, or being chosen, as a mate is their first order of business upon return to Utah.

These two Mallard-sized grebes look nearly identical, with long white necks like a swan’s and lance-shaped bills like a heron’s. They differ subtly in the color of that bill and the extent of their black caps. What is most striking about western and Clark’s grebes is not their dapper appearance but their exuberant courtship dance. Like Snoopy dancing beside his mirror image, a pair of birds will tread furiously across the water surface, enabling them to rise upright with their necks stretched forward. After skittering ahead for 20 feet or more, the couple abruptly pitches forward and dives beneath the surface.

On our lakes and marshes, these two species of grebes today make the biggest splash on their watery dance floor. Just a century ago, they were hunted to near extinction for feathers to adorn womens’ hats. Happily, conservation trumped fashion, and populations of both species have largely recovered. Can any North American waterfowl match the vigor of this foot-churning courtship display? You be the judge. Pull up a lakeside seat, and with a little luck, you will be in the audience when they dance their splashy quick-steps to the primordial cadence of spring.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke Photographer

Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society: Jim Cane

For More Information:
Check out Grebe Video on Google

Western Grebe Identification, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Grebe/id

Clark’s Grebe Identification, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Clarks_Grebe/id

Western Grebe, Guide to North American Birds, Audubon, https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/western-grebe

Clark’s Grebe, Guide to North American Birds, Audubon, https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/clarks-grebe

Western Grebe, Birds of the World, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/species/wesgre/cur/introduction

Clark’s Grebe, Birds of the World, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/species/clagre/cur/introduction

Western Grebe, UtahBirds.org, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesS-Z/WesternGrebe.htm

Clark’s Grebe, UtahBirds.org, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/Profiles/ClarksGrebe.htm