THE LAUGHING GULL…...A THREE YEAR GULL
ARE THE SEAGULLS TRAINING US? OR ARE WE TRAINING THE SEAGULLS?
The Laughing Gull is found along the coastlines through-out the Atlantic Flyway.
The greatest concentration of breeding laughing gulls is from the Chesapeake Bay up to Nova Scotia.
Laughing gulls are primarily coastal gulls. They nest in salt marshes and sand dunes and typically look for slightly higher spots in order to minimize the chance of being flooded by high tides. The breeding adults return in early April and begin building nests and after the full moon of April they lay eggs and the 25-day incubation period begins.
Here in Southern New Jersey, the time of hatching comes with the warming days and the Memorial Day weekend. Since returning, these gulls were “living off the land”. They have been eating all the things they should, they know exactly what that is and where to find it. Laughing Gulls eat a variety of invertebrates, earthworms, snails, crabs, horseshoe crab eggs, fish, squid, insects and flying insects.
Then comes Memorial Day, The parents now have chicks in the nest. The food demand on the parents is increasing and as summer season progresses, the gull sees that half a sandwich or slice of pizza as a quick trade off for a lot of time hunting snails and insects. So instead of working for food, they take the chance of a quick easy meal instead.
Over the past years, Laughing gulls have learned that the more aggressive they are towards people, the more food they get and the more food they get, the better the chance of all the chicks in the nest surviving. Since they are really not afraid of us, they will harass us, swoop at us, stand around and stare at us, or hover above us, until we drop our food or throw them food to get them away from us. Sometimes they steal food right from our hands and yes, sometimes we just feed them. The first time a gull receives food from a person, they begin learning that we are a good food source and they begin learning how they can train us to feed them.
IMMATURE - 1ST YEAR LAUGHING GULL
Since returning to our area, the parents, who share nesting and incubation duties, have only to feed themselves and have all day to do it, but once the chicks hatch, the parent gulls begin feeding their nestlings as well.
The older they get and the bigger they grow, the greater the food burden is on the parent gulls.
Seagulls feed their young by regurgitating undigested food. Afterward, the parent then leaves the nest to go find food and then heads back to the nest and repeats it all day.
Once the young birds begin flying, they follow their parents and continue to be fed as shown here.
The first important aspect to training the gulls is not scaring them, but denying them food.
The gulls want to obtain food quickly, get back to their nest, feed their young and repeat it.
Their only goal for each day is to feed themselves and their growing nestlings.
Seagulls and other birds will generally return to where they found their last meal. So back to the beach, the restaurant or even a dumpster they go, but we can be sure they are coming back.
When a predator shows up, the more aggressive gulls will challenge its presence, taking turns diving at it, often coming within 5-10 ft. of the hawk as they speed past it, in hopes to drive it out.
But when their attempts fail, and they do, they lose their stronghold on that area. They circle above the hawk, screaming arw-arw-arw-arw, repeatedly, circling higher and higher. Having lost their stronghold on that area and since they must eat, they are forced by hunger, to move on to an area where food is more readily available without the risk of being threatened or killed by a predator.
Therefore, an important aspect of training the gulls is denying them the easy meal.
The 2nd year gull spends its year learning to be an adult. They have no responsibility to nesting and are learning what it takes to eat. Consider them teenagers, trying every means to figure out how to get your food from you. Since they are only thinking of themselves, they will stay close to where the food is and study the situation looking for our common movements that produce food or make it available to them. If they are learning or have learned to stay near us and our food, then they will show that to their chicks when they become breeding adults.
Conversely, even though food may be present and in sight of them, if they are denied that food, they will move on to another area where food can be obtained. Should a specific area become hostile or threatening to them, then the 2nd yr. gull will be leery and will not see that area as a good food source. The continual denial of food for the immature gull is imperative.
Therefore, an important aspect of training the gulls is making a big impact on the 2nd yr gull.
The 2nd yr. Laughing Gulls plumage is in between the striking markings of the adult (black head, grey wings, white under) and the brown and white of last years feathers.
They are as teenagers, very capable, but still learning all the tricks of life.
Sea Birds have salt glands which filter out the large amounts of salt they ingest on a daily basis. Those glands make it possible for them to drink salt water and eat salty food such as pizza and french fries.
The next factor to training the gulls is fear. Fear of a predator. The Laughing Gull is really not afraid of people, but the gulls have no desire to be attacked by a hawk. They are looking for the easy meal and one that can be taken quickly. When hawks are in the area, the fear of the hawk takes a forefront to eating. They begin to fly over the area looking for the hawk and when they see it, they sound the alarm of danger to other gulls in the area. Suddenly, all the gulls in the area are alerted of danger and the presence of a predator. Natural fear within them takes over and food becomes secondary to survival. To alleviate the fear and the stress caused by the threat of the hawk, they have no choice but to move on in search for an easier food source.
Although aggressive against beach goers, seagulls are scared to death of hawks and falcons.
When a hawk begins to camp out in a specific area, the gulls see that area as a hostile area.
Instead of taking the risk of being killed, or even chased by a hawk, they will leave the area.
Therefore, an important aspect to training the gulls is the presence of a hawk or falcon.
ADULT ( BREEDING ) LAUGHING GULL
The Laughing Gull lives along all the Atlantic coasts of North America. They are federally protected by the Migratory Bird Act and live in colonies as they move up and down the coast during the year. By the third year they have become mature adults and their adult plumage grows in as shown above. Although there are many things that may shorten their life span, most will live 15 to 20 years.
It is understandable that those who have been harassed or had their food stolen by the gulls would hold a negative viewpoint against them. It is also understandable that their droppings and nesting habits and material is detrimental for buildings and the equipment that services the buildings and it is also understandable how their persistence for our food is a nuisance and an out right problem for some of us. I have heard many negative terms given to the gulls and to the deeds they have carried out against us. All will agree they are ruthless and persistent and can become quite aggressive against us where and when food is present.
But at the same time, the calls of the seagulls are as much a part of the seashore as the constant sound of the waves rolling in the surf. To watch their flight abilities as they soar down the beach, to watch the gulls feeding over a school of bait fish, just beyond the breakers and to hear the sounds of the seagulls, is all part of what makes a day at the seashore relaxing and enjoyable.
Here in the Atlantic Flyway, we have many species of hawks and falcons.
The falcons dominate the sky, while the hawks will dominate the ground.
Falcons will force the gulls out of the sky, while Hawks will force the gulls to the sky.
In big areas, such as landfills and airports, the falcons are very effective at controlling
the birds which are a nuisance and/or danger to those areas.
But working in smaller areas such as;
- Restaurants with outdoor dining
- Hotel resort pool areas
- Beach bars
- Private parties
- Special events
- Beach weddings/receptions,
In these kinds of scenarios, the Harris’ Hawks will control the grounds and the surrounding areas from seagulls that have become a nuisance to our summertime affairs and events.
The hawks we use are Harris’ Hawks, which come from the dessert southwest of North America. They are fast, agile in flight and very threatening to seagulls. They make eye contact with the gulls and will not allow them to be comfortable near the ground. There is no other hawk that will put the fear in the seagulls like the Harris’ Hawk working with its falconer. They are very intelligent, highly trained raptors that are completely comfortable in and around people and crowds. We allow pictures of the hawks and will answer the questions of your patrons and guests politely and informatively.
If you have a seagull problem or foresee an upcoming event, we will be happy to meet with you to discuss how we can eradicate the seagulls from your establishment or event and help your season be pleasant and seagull free.
The Harris’ Hawk