Julie Maxey-Allison | 10th Street
They are still here, right on the beach, albeit fewer than in the flurry of the summer season. Our California Gulls, Larus Californicus, don’t take off with other migrating birds in the winter. They stick around, always on the lookout for the possibility of their favorite, French fries, crisp and fresh from your, or anyone else’s, picnic. Ever opportunistic, these foragers do, however, settle for less as they hunt for food on foot, from the air, and/or into the water.
Even in winter they are part of the beach sport “catch-me-if-you-can” played by toddlers and young children who can’t resist going after the gulls in a full-on chase, surfing the sand in a mighty effort to catch one. The gulls enjoy the game, gliding just out of reach, repeating the retreat each time a pursuer gets close. What would the youngsters do if indeed they managed to grab a gull?
These sociable California Gulls mix not only with beach goers but with the many other species in the gull family that stop in along the coast. Our locals can be identified by their white heads, dark eyes, gray backs, with a bit of color for show via their yellow legs. They breed in inland lakes and rivers, both parents stay together to take turns incubating their eggs. They can live a long life. One of the oldest California Gulls on record was 28 when caught in 2013. It had been banded in 1985.
Young gulls start out a mottled brown and white color with pale faces, their bills and legs pinkish. As they grow their backs go gray as their legs turn bluish before their final yellow tint at about three years on. After the juveniles perfect their strong and nimble flying their next task is to master the skill of catching things in midair. They practice this trick by dropping a stick and swooping down to catch it. That may have been the inspiration for the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a fable about a seagull more interested in learning about life and flight than eating, popular in the 1970s. A noble thought. Still, best to protect your French fries.