Bird Notes | Ring-billed gulls everywhere in Myrtle Beach area during wintertime

Bird NotesJanuary 23, 2014 

Ring-billed gulls are the most common gull found in Myrtle Beach area during winter.

BY GARY PHILLIPS — For The Sun News

During winter in the Myrtle Beach area, as many as nine species of gulls may be found. Of those, the ring-billed gull is far and away the most commonly encountered.

Often called french fry gulls, they are found along the oceanfront, in commercial parking lots, at fast food establishments, stormwater retention and wastewater treatment ponds, the county landfill, rivers, lakes, ponds, marshes and the open ocean.

These sociable, often garrulous birds are nearly omnipresent in winter. The vast majority of these gulls leave the Myrtle Beach area in early spring to return to far northern breeding grounds.

Ring-billeds breed as far north as the Canadian maritimes, across the Great Lakes and northern border states to the Pacific Northwest and into Western Canada, while wintering along the Atlantic coast, along the Gulf Coast through Texas, down through Mexico and Central America and the Caribbean.

As with most other gulls, ring-billeds are amazingly adaptive, able to gain sustenance from a wide variety of sources; in short, they appear to be able to eat nearly anything.

Many folks think of gulls as being scavengers, at which they are quite adept.

By the way, they’re not “seagulls,” merely gulls. They can be found far from any sea or ocean, especially in winter, but some of them never set sight on the sea during their entire lifetime.

In addition to scavenging, gulls are also quite capable of finding and procuring food in a number of ways, including capturing fish, shellfish, fruits/berries, earthworms and insects, among other items. They’re highly intelligent, capable of experimental learning as well as learning from observation.

They find unique ways to solve problems, for instance, opening shellfish such as clams and oysters. The birds will pick up the item, fly above a hard surface such as large rocks, concrete or asphalt, then drop the item. Impact with the hard surface cracks the items’ shell, and the gull gets a tasty meal for itself.

Gulls are also amazing fliers. Their long, tapered wings are adapted for long-range flight, and they may cover substantial distances during the day in search of food.

They’re also quite capable of hovering when they spot prey or other potential food items. If you’ve ever watched someone hand-feeding, or done so yourself, you know how well they can hover and how deftly they can snatch a french fry or slice of bread from the hand. They can also be quite bold, as many beach-goers have found when leaving food unprotected for a moment while turning their attention elsewhere.

Reach GARY PHILLIPS at 248-4595 or carolinensis@yahoo.com.

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