by Kyle Sweet, Superintendent, The Sanctuary Golf Club, Florida Master Naturalist
It’s difficult not to see wildlife on any trip around Southwest Florida. I couldn’t help but notice several large flocks of birds peppered all along the causeway over the past few weeks. It’s tough to identify them at 35 MPH, but I’m pretty confident that they consist of a variety of gulls, one of which is the Ring-billed Gull, a common Gull that I’ve photographed many times along our local beaches.
The Ring-billed Gull is found near both fresh and salt water, inhabiting lakes, bays and piers but rarely found any distance offshore. It’s easily identifiable by its short yellow bill that has a black band across it, yellow legs and pale gray back.
Considered the most common and widespread Gull in North America, it’s seen more inland than any other Gull species and has become well adapted to civilization. These Gulls often congregate in parking lots of restaurants looking for food as well as scavenging at landfills. Beyond searching for human handouts, the diet of the Ring-billed Gull is quite varied due to its varied habitats. Insects, small fish, earthworms, grubs, small rodents and the occasional seeds make up the diet of this gull.
Ring-billed Gulls nest in large colonies almost always near fresh water on low, sparsely vegetated terrain. The nest consists of a scrape in the ground lined with twigs, sticks, leaves and mosses. Aerial predators can pose a problem for the nests, so often they are placed underneath low growing plants for maximum camouflage. Nesting sites tend to be used for multiple seasons either by returning or new pairs and it has been documented that many, if not most of these gulls, return to the breeding area that they where they were hatched as well as the same wintering migratory spots.
These strong, graceful flyers can fly at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour and are capable of catching a mid-air meal. With many shorebirds enjoying our shorelines, these gulls tend to stand out and are a great one for beginning birders to learn and identify. A quick look at a flock congregated on the causeway might reveal a few in the crowd for sure. Just make sure to have those binoculars at the ready and oh yeah……pull over first. Enjoy!
Fun fact: Wow, the oldest document Ring-billed Gull was 27 years old!