10 September 2018

Kelp Gulls at the John Ball Zoo

I spent last weekend on gull patrol in the Holland, Michigan region, but not without taking a short detour to the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids. Why the John Ball Zoo? It is the last AZA Zoo in North America that has Kelp Gulls in its collection, making this a must visit destination for any gull enthusiast.

Male Kelp Gull - "Sunny".
Upon my arrival I met with David Blasziewicz who has been at the zoo for 22 years. David was a wealth of information and shared with me everything I wanted to know about these birds.

The remaining Kelps - two individuals, Sunny and Max - were actually collected in the wild as eggs on the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica, hatched in San Diego, and eventually made their way to JBZ. They are now 35 years old, which almost surely is the longevity record for KEGUs in captivity.

Female Kelp Gull - "Maxine"

I was able to learn through David that the zoo has the birds on a North American photo schedule. The hours of light the birds receive is controlled by a computer, made to mirror what naturally occurs at this latitude. Thus, their molt schedules are on par with local birds in the wild. I asked David if any of the Kelps they've had at the zoo have ever escaped or successfully nested: No to both inquiries.

Here, Sunny is asserting his dominance, breaking out in a long call as he did every 10 minutes or so.

It's inevitable that these birds will eventually perish (from natural causes) and the zoo will in all likelihood not be replacing them. That's unfortunate seeing that this is the most widespread gull species in the southern hemisphere.

A very special thank you to David for taking the time to meet with me and tell me all about these special birds!

01 September 2018

Monthly Notables August 2018


  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (2nd cycle). San Luis Obispo County, California. 03 August 2018.
  • Franklin's Gull (1st summer type). Fairfax County, Virginia. 04 August 2018.
  • Laughing Gull (adult). Lunenberg County, Nova Scotia. 04 August 2018.
  • Laughing Gull (juvenile). Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. 04 August 2018.
  • Sabine's Gull (adult type). Sarasota County, Florida. 11 August 2018.
    • The observer has had 3 Sabine's at this site in 14 months. 
  • Great Black-backed Gull (adult). Sweetwater County, Wyoming. 13 August 2018.
    • Possibly the same individual seen here last August.
  • Mew Gull (2nd cycle). Arapahoe County, Colorado. 13 August 2018.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult). Mendocino County, California. 14 August 2018.
    • Apparently the 3rd LBBG seen in California this summer. 
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile). Hamilton County, Ontario. 20 August 2018.
  • Common Gull (adult). St. John's County, Newfoundland & Labrador. 24 August 2018.
  • Herring Gull (3rd cycle type). San Francisco County, California. 25 August 2018.

Miscellaneous Notes:
  • On 01 August 2018, Jean-Guy Beaulieu found and photographed a banded 1st summer Black-legged Kittiwake in Les Escoumins, Quebec. After doing a little investigating, I received a reply from a French biologist who claimed the bird - apparently the first banded French kittiwake to be found on mainland America. More here.

August 2018 Quiz

Age: Focusing on the two individuals with heads upright, we can be fairly confident these are adult, large white-headed gulls (LWHG).

Identification: The black-backed gull should be the easier to identify from this duo. Given its relative size, we should readily dismiss Great Black-backed Gull. This appears to be a slim and long-winged gull. The red gonys spot is enlarged and the bill itself is relatively straight with virtually no expansion at the gonys. The streaking on the face is made up of thin, pencil-like, streaks. All of these features make this yellow-eyed critter a Lesser Black-backed Gull  

The noticeably larger gull to the left with paler gray upperparts is superficially similar to a Herring, but it isn't one. Notice the black on the primaries is not a jet black like the other gulls in the photo. That, along with the extensive white on the primaries should convince us we may have something other than a Herring in view. The darkish eye and greenish tinge to the bill match up nicely with Thayer's Iceland Gull, as does the extent of pigment on the primaries.

Our August Quiz photo is indeed of a Thayer's Gull (left) and Lesser Black-backed Gull (right).
Chicago, Illinois. January.