Wildlife column: Seagulls make Oklahoma home, like to scavenge

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By Tatyana Nyborg
Metro Campus Associate Editor

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Oklahoma has a variety of birds, but seeing seagulls can be a surprise.

Once, I had a meeting with a friend at Steer Inn restaurant in Mannford, Okla. After the lunch, I spotted a group of seagulls sitting in line on the top of the roof of the Lakeshore Motel, located next to the restaurant.

I was looking at the gathering of seagulls for at least five minutes. They were so beautiful, with white, smooth, feathered bodies and hooked beaks.

It seems, the seagulls completely enjoyed occupying the roof. They had that moment of “togetherness,” which the famous American movie director, Woody Allen, described in one of his films, a parody on a 19th century novel. The several birds were sitting calmly and in agreement with each other.

It was completely unexpected to see seagulls in Mannford, where I have lived for the past 17 years. I found valuable answers to my questions about seagulls in Oklahoma on the photo blog, “Tulsa Gentleman.”

“Fifty years ago the seagull would not have been on a list of Oklahoma birds, now they are common wherever there are lakes or rivers of any size and that includes the Arkansas River as it passes through Tulsa,” states the blogger Bill Miller.

“From 1963 to 1971 a series of locks and dams were built, and made the Arkansas River navigable to barge traffic from the Port of Catoosa just east of Tulsa, across eastern Oklahoma, through Arkansas to the Mississippi River, and down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico,” he explains.

“Flying in the other direction were a variety of water birds not previously found as far inland as Oklahoma. Now it is common to see seagulls, pelicans, and several new varieties of herons, including the Cattle Heron,” Miller says.

Another source of information on seagulls is www.speickstrom.com,“Most gulls belong to the large family named Laridae. The word Laridae is from the Greek word meaning “ravenous sea bird.” The term “Seagull” can be misleading because many species of gulls live, feed, and nest inland. Gulls can be found around the oceans worldwide with the exception of some central Pacific islands, and some areas in Southeast Asia.”

The website lists more than a dozen seagull types and says the gull is a scavenger, “It is most often seen in large, noisy flocks congregating wherever food is available. They can almost always be found around fishing boats, picnic grounds, parking lots and garbage dumps. Many people consider the gull to be a nuisance, but they actually perform a very valuable service. They are garbage men (sanitation engineers for the politically correct) with wings. They scavenge up great numbers of dead animals and organic litter which could pose a health threat to humans.”

It is so true. Once, my family traveled to Utah in the motorhome. We stopped at a small gas station. A big dumpster was next to the motorhome. Three or four seagulls “hung out” by the dumpster, picking up some food. We gave them baby carrots. The gulls swallowed the carrots quickly. We run out of the carrots, but the birds were begging for more. Then, we offered them hot dogs. A seagull swallowed the entire hot dog at once. We were amazed at the seagulls’ scavenging abilities. They can eat large pieces of food without chewing or chopping it, just like pelicans.

I also noticed that seagulls are big birds in comparison with the majority of wild birds in Oklahoma. On average, seagulls are 15 inches tall with a wingspan of 35-40 inches. There are seagulls almost twice as large in size in other parts of the United States and abroad.

Watching and interacting with seagulls is a unique and awarding experience for humans.

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