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Thursday, Sept. 23, 2004

ANIMAL TRACKER

Herring gull


* Japanese name: Segurokamome
* Scientific name: Larus argentatus
* Description: Herring gulls are large, noisy, boisterous birds. They are white with light gray backs, black wingtips and pink legs that have webbed feet. A key identifying mark is the red spot on the lower tip of their yellow bills. They grow 55-66 cm long, with a wing span of 130-158 cm. Brown streaks appear on the heads of the adults in winter. The voice of a herring gull may be a plaintive mew or a loud, wailing laugh.
* Where to find them: These days, herring gulls are widespread, found on the coast as well as inland at garbage tips, fields, reservoirs and lakes. They are more likely to be seen inland during winter. They often breed in colonies on the coast (cliffs, beaches, small islands and rooftops), sometimes returning to a nesting site faithfully for 20 years. Gulls near airports are a potential hazard to aircraft.
* Food: Herring gulls are omnivorous. They scavenge and eat most things, but that's not to say they aren't crafty. Gulls know that dropping clams on rocks or pavement, for example, will smash the shell. They eat fish (especially herring) and insects, the eggs and young of other birds, floating dead animals, bread -- even French fries and burgers if they're available.
* Special features: Herring gulls are careful parents. While incubating, adults gently turn the eggs with their bills to ensure even development of the embryos. When the chick is hatched, the parents fly off with the eggshell, so that it's shiny white inner surface won't attract predators. And it's now that the function of the red spot on the bill can be revealed. Chicks instinctively peck at the red spot, and this stimulates the adult to regurgitate food. Chicks will also try in the same way to stimulate the red eraser on a pencil. Mortality among chicks is mainly due to food shortages, so they have every reason to peck at that red spot, and natural selection has seen to it that they do.



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