When I close my eyes and imagine the coast, I hear waves breaking, fog horns, bell buoys and, of course, the raucous calls of gulls.
The western gull (Larus occidentalis) is a resident of the Pacific Coast and can be found year round from British Columbia south to Baja CA. Western gulls are strongly coastal, rarely venturing inland. Although some western gulls will move northward after the breeding season, they generally are not migratory.
A western gulls is considered a four year or four cycle bird. It takes four years to acquire adult plumage. Juvenile and immature gulls do not resemble adults and look different each year until they mature. Talk about difficult to identify! Adult western gulls have pink legs and yellow bills. This large gull has a red spot on the gonydeal angle of the bill. (The gonys is a ridge on the lower mandible of gulls and a few other species, and forms the gonydeal angle.) The bill expands at the gonydeal angle and gives the western gull bill a bulbous look. The western gull’s back is slate gray while its head and underparts are white. The yellow to dusky eye is surrounded by a yellow orbital ring. Many other species of mature gulls closely resemble adult western gulls, further confusing the novice birder, including me. At least the the sexes look alike.
Western gulls forage at sea, intertidal zones, beaches, garbage dumps, parking lots – they are not particular – for fish, seabird eggs and chicks, marine invertebrates (clams, crabs, sea urchins, squid, jellyfish, etc.), small vertebrates, carrion and refuse. Gulls are opportunistic and will also steal food from other birds and animals. The literature reports that western gulls will even take milk from lactating female seals while the seals sleep on their backs on the beach. I enjoy watching gulls as they squabble over food.
These western gulls were photographed in the Cocquille River estuary and along the beach near Bandon OR.