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Brooklyn Bird Watch: July 9

The Great Black Back Gull. Scientific name: Larus marinus

July 9, 2021 By Joseph Palmer
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Another juvenile bird photo by Heather Wolf featured in Brooklyn Bird Watch is of the Great Black Backed gull. The young bird pictured here on a piling in Brooklyn Bridge Park, will grow up to be known as the King of Gulls, or as the Cornell Lab describes it, “the king of the Atlantic waterfront.” Cornell notes that it will be “handsome with broad black wings, a gleaming white head and bright yellow bill.”

The Great Black Back is the largest gull in the world. Wikipedia labels the aggressive hunter as a “pirate and scavenger.” And, if this weren’t bad enough, this young bird will also inherit the label “merciless tyrant” because of the unrelenting predatory instincts coded in its DNA. For example, “they will catch flying passerines while the small birds are exhausted from migration, and swallow them immediately. They also feed on land animals, including rats at garbage dumps. Most foods are swallowed whole, including most fish and even other gulls.”

When foods are too large to be swallowed at once, like alligators do, this gull will shake the food in its bill until the creature falls apart.

I’ve always been fascinated with how some birds adapted to the problem of not having any hands or tools. They figured out how to eat hard surfaced foods, like a clam for example. Like other smart birds, the Great Black Back will fly into the air with it, and drop it on the rocks to crack it open.

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Audubon notes that the Great Black Back has been increasing its population in North America at least since the 1930s, with the breeding range steadily expanding southward along the Atlantic Coast and inland to some areas of the Great Lakes. And by the way, the human establishment of the “garbage dump” has in fact been a contributing factor to the increasing population of the Great Black Backed gull. 

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