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Seagulls Don't Exist on Oregon / Washington Coast - Just Gulls (About Western Gull)

Published 08/13/20 at 5:44 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Seagulls Don't Exist on Oregon / Washington Coast - Just Gulls (About Western Gull)

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(Oregon Coast) – It's perhaps the biggest misnomer used on the Oregon coast or Washington coast: the term seagull. They don’t technically exist. The correct term is gull – not seagull – and yes, it drives birders crazy. Thanks to the internet this fact is slowly spreading, but in the meantime there are scores of coastal businesses named for “seagulls” and who knows how long it will be before the rest of us catch up.

Just ask Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium.

“Did you know that there's no such thing as a seagull?” she said. “Say what!? Yep, there are actually many different species of gulls that live near the sea - 28 types in North America to be precise, and not one of them is named seagull.”

Indeed, for the Washington and Oregon coast most of what we see here are Western gulls. While they’re the most prominent species of gull around these parts, Boothe said they actually have the smallest population of gulls in North America.

You can tell it’s them by the gray wings, white head – and most importantly the yellow beak. That’s the big giveaway as other gulls can look similar. That yellow schnoz comes with a little red spot as well. Juvenile western gulls look much more gray, and they too can then resemble other birds to the untrained eye.

Photo Seaside Aquarium: this western gull named Simon hung out in front of the aquarium for ages

“They also have another unique quality: they're the only gull that nests along the rocky coastline, rather than in estuaries,” Boothe said.

While common from California through the southern Washington coast, they come through the northern Washington shoreline and British Columbia as they’re migrating. Down in the San Francisco area, there’s an offshore island that has the largest population of them.

Western gulls are almost exclusively marine-dwellers, but they’ve been known to come inland as far as about 100 miles. This explains why you’ll periodically spot them scavenging and hear that instantly-recognizable squealing sound in say… a Fred Meyer’s parking lot in Portland.

“In early summer, western Gulls begin forming breeding pairs,” Boothe said. “If possible, they'll reunite with their previous year’s partner. Females lay 2-3 eggs per season, and both partners aggressively protect their chosen nest site. Believe it or not, baby western bulls are some of the cutest chicks on the planet. To see these fluffy spotted cotton-balls, check out Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach at low tide between June and August.”

Boothe also wanted to reiterate you should NOT feed the gulls.

“Processed foods are very unhealthy for them, even though they might seem to love your bread and popcorn,” Boothe said. “If you see an injured bird and want to help, call the Wildlife Center of the North Coast at 503-338-0331.”

According to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, several other kinds of gulls inhabit the Oregon coast. Among them you’ll find the Mew gull, Thayer's gull, Glaucous-winged gull, Sabine's gull, Black-legged kittiwake, Common tern, Arctic tern, Elegant tern, Parasitic jaeger, Pomarine jaeger, and Long-tailed jaeger.

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Photo Seaside Aquarium: a baby western gull atop Haystack Rock

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