Friday, 27 March 2015

B.O.T.D. California Gull

California Gull (Larus californicus)

In the heart of Salt Lake City, Utah, stands a monument to sea gulls that commemorates their contribution to the Mormon's settling of the surrounding area. To many visitors, such a landmark must seem somewhat puzzling.

The term "sea gull" is often a misleading one, for many gulls spend much of their lives far from the ocean. The California Gull - itself somewhat misnamed - breeds primarily on islands in lakes of the interior plains of the West. This opportunistic feeder not only plunges after lake fish but also takes cutworms, grubs, small rodents, and other agricultural pests in freshly plowed fields - habits that make it welcome to farmers. Indeed, to the first Mormon settlers in Utah, the California gull seemed to be divinely sent.

In 1848 and again in 1855, plagues of grasshoppers broke out in Salt Lake Valley and threatened to destroy the settlers' crops, which would have meant almost certain starvation. But as one newspaper reported, "the gulls made war on them, and have swept them clean." In 1913 the Mormons erected their monument to that event, and the California full, almost certainly the species that came to the rescue, is honoured now as the state bird of Utah.

Cornell Lab: California Gull

Reader's Digest: Book of North American Birds