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Ring-billed gulls

Ring-billed gull
archer10 (Dennis)
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Ring-billed gull

I was perusing Robert Stewart’s Breeding Birds of North Dakota (1975) recently and noticed that he listed three species of gulls nesting in the state: California, Franklin’s, and ring-billed. He also noted that herring gulls were nesting on Stump Lake back in 1884.

What many people might call a “sea gull” is likely a ring-billed gull. By the way, many gulls will never be near the sea, so on behalf of the ornithologists of the world, don’t call them “sea gulls.” That is, of course, with the exception of Johnathan Livingston Seagull. Remember that book and movie from the 1970s?

Ring-billed gulls are medium sized gulls, around 17-21 inches long with a wingspan of a little over three feet. Although juveniles are pretty much all light gray, mature birds are white with pale gray wings and black wing tips. The legs and feet of ring-billed gulls are yellowish. They also have a yellow beak with a black ring or band around it near the tip. If you can spot that black band, and it is often quite noticeable, it is a distinguishing characteristic in identifying the species.

Ring-billed gulls may be found over much of the state, but less so south and west of the Missouri River. They nest in colonies on islands with little vegetation on large lakes. Nesting colonies have been documented in several locations in the state including Chase Lake, East Devils Lake, J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge, Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and Willow Lake in Rolette County. If all goes well for a mated pair, they will raise one brood of 2-4 young.

As you might surmise, ring-billed gulls are opportunistic feeders and scavengers. They are known to feed on most anything that is available, including insects, worms, garbage, grain, fish, eggs, bird chicks, seeds, fruits, and most anything that looks even close to edible anywhere ranging from the shoreline of a body of water to the parking lot of your local fast-food restaurant.

But ring-billed gulls may also fall prey to a variety of predators. Fox, coyote, skunk, raccoon, mink, great horned owls, and crows for example are known to prey on eggs, young, or adults.

Further reading:

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota"and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers.
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