by Alex Forsythe
It’s been a long winter, and we could all use a good laugh. Why not chuckle along with a Laughing Gull?
Laughing Gulls do seem jovial, from their call (a series of laughing notes) to their eagerness in sharing your lunch. I had quite a bit of fun with these birds while vacationing in Florida. If you are holding anything that might resemble a food container, they do their best to look cute, pitiful, and famished while giving each other the evil eye. If you are stingy with your meal, they have a tendency to “dive bomb” you until you become more generous! When they aren’t begging for food from humans, they dine on a healthier meal of crabs, fish, insects and other invertebrates. Unlike other gulls, they are rarely steal eggs and chicks from other birds.
They breed in loud, raucous colonies that can number in the thousands. They’re monogamous and often stay together for several breeding seasons. According to the Bent Life History series published by the Smithsonian, “They build their nests in a compact colony, among the sand dunes, near the center of the island, where the beach grass grows long and thick on the sandy slopes and in the hollows between the dunes. Usually the nests are, at least partially, concealed in the beach grass, which grows 2 feet high or more, but often they are in plain sight. When the nest is placed in the thick grass, a well trodden path over-arched with grass leads up to it on one side and away from it on the other, so that the bird may enter and leave the nest without turning around at the risk of ruffling its immaculate plumage.”
Since Laughing Gulls nest on the ground, the eggs and chicks are vulnerable to ATVs cruising along the beachfront, loose dogs and cats, and beachfront development. They are also vulnerable to chemicals like DDT and parathion. During a study in 1978, 25% of the fledglings died after eating insects their parents collected from recently sprayed fields nearby. About 100 adults also died from exposure to the insecticides. (Wilson Bulletin, Vol. 95, No. 4, December 1983)
We have been fortunate to find Laughing Gulls in Indiana, but such sightings are uncommon. In order to be surrounded by these gulls and their laughter, you’ll have to travel to the warmer coastlines.
If you’d like to laugh along with these gulls, but you cannot travel to the coast, watch this video. Listen to that voice! It’s sure to make you giggle!