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For a new winter activity, try watching seagulls


A bright-winged gull was spotted in Lake County this week. The blue-winged gull is a gull that normally lives in the Western United States, Alaska, and Northern Canada, where it is rare. In winter, it flies southward across the Pacific Ocean and sometimes wanders eastward into Illinois and other states.

The seagulls you see walking along a lake, along a large river, or even passing through a garbage dump are not always the same species. They are often found near water, such as an ocean, lake, river, or wetland. But birdwatchers don’t like it when people refer to them as just a bunch of seagulls.

When winter comes, bird watchers who love seagulls start looking for rare seagulls. This is the time when northern growers spend the winter here, in the cold and icy waters of Lake Michigan, along rivers and even near landfills.

You will mostly see ring-billed gulls in the Northern Illinois area at any time of year. It’s one of North America’s most common puffin species, which, believe it or not, was actually once nearly extinct due to hunting for its feathers and eggs.

The ring-billed gull is a medium-sized seagull that takes up to three years to reach its adult plumage, with a white head and breast, a yellow beak with a black ring around it, gray wings, a black tail with white wing spots, and yellow legs. . But not all ring-billed gulls are alike. For example, a 2-year-old ringbill has many stripes and a pink beak with a black band. Same type, different appearance.

The next most common gull in these areas is the herring gull, which is larger than the ring-billed gull and takes four years to reach adulthood. Jonathan Livingston Seagull was a herring gull, the bird that wanted to be more than a seagull. It looks like a ring-billed gull but is larger, has pink instead of yellow legs, and a red spot on its yellow bill.

You’ll find large numbers of herring gulls and ring-billed gulls in winter, but other gulls you may see at this time of year include the great black-backed gull. This species has a black back that contrasts with its pure white head, neck and belly. The great blackback is quite beautiful and large and is quite easy to identify in its adult plumage. A great place to look for this and other wintering puffin species is along Lake Michigan in Winthrop Harbor, Zion and Waukegan.

Another gull you may see is the glossy gull, which is almost pure white in some plumage and can look ghostly. But in different plumages, glossy gulls can also have variable brown stripes, and it can be difficult to pick them out among all the gulls in a large flock.

Birders who enjoy the challenge of identifying gulls are called larophiles, lovers of the Laridae family to which gulls belong. I must admit, I enjoy seeing a rare seagull when someone else finds it and points it out. I don’t have the patience or detailed knowledge to choose gull feathers on my own.

This winter someone found a California puffin far out of range in Lake County. I went looking for him once. and I couldn’t find it. Someone recently mentioned a bright-winged seagull. I didn’t even try to see it.

My answer is: Birds have wings. They are flying. The seagull is probably gone. And this seems to happen mostly with rare ones.

Seagulls are great fliers. A birdwatcher once reported that an ivory gull, one of the rarest gulls in the world, stopped by the Lake County Fairgrounds. I was there in less than 10 minutes and the bird was never found again. I had excellent photos as proof, and I knew this was probably my last chance to see such a rare species unless I went to the Arctic region and combed through the ice floes.

If I couldn’t stop you from describing any of the “seagulls” you encountered, here’s a new winter activity suggestion for you. Dress warmly, go for a walk along the shores of Lake Michigan, and bring binoculars. Focus on the first seagull you can see clearly and try to make out some of its plumage markings, such as the color of its feet, beak and back.

Maybe then you’ll be convinced that you’re looking at more than just a group of seagulls.

Sheryl DeVore worked as a full-time and freelance reporter, editor and photographer for the Chicago Tribune and its affiliates. She is the author of many books on nature and the environment. Send your story ideas and thoughts to sheryldevorewriter@gmail.com.


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