Ring-billed Gulls soared together riding the wind currents over the Horicon Marsh on Sunday afternoon. Gulls are partial migrants. Some stay in the area and some migrate to the warmer coasts in the winter.
The gulls took turns hovering briefly, a few feet above the surface of the marsh, looking for fish, frogs, and insects.
When they spotted a delicious morsel, they plunged to the water, snatched their tasty treat, and took off. They often dropped their dinner and scooped it back up several times before eating it.
This gull snaps up a frog from the water.
The gulls were quite vocal when they weren’t eating.
The Herring Gull is content to watch the action from the slowly dissipating ice crust. His pink legs and the red spot on his bill distinguish him from the Ring-billed Gull with its yellow legs and black band around the bill. It takes two to four years to develop this beautiful gray and white plumage accented with a black tail and white tips.
Herring Gulls chip away at the icy surface of the Horicon Marsh to find frozen fish underneath. It is not a good idea to flaunt your fish filet.
This juvenile Herring Gull aggressively responds to a gull that got too close to its fishing hole.
The birds battle for open fishing holes. If a gull gets a large piece of fish, the rest of the flock gather around to try and steal some for themselves.
After chaotic flapping of wings and loud squawking, a victor eats the spoil.
Meanwhile, the Canada Geese were honking, hissing, and sticking out their tongues in their own displays of aggression.
They flare their wings and run offenders off of their turf, a muskrat house, in this case.
In contrast to the aggressive displays of the gulls and geese, the pretty House Sparrow is content to flit and perch in shrubs along the Marsh.
According to the American Museum of Natural History’s Birds of North America: Eastern Region, House Sparrows are a member of the Eurasian family called weaver-finches. The House Sparrow was first introduced in Brooklyn, New York in 1850 and is now one of North American’s most common birds.
The American Goldfinch perches peacefully with the House Sparrows.
Bird activity is increasing at the Horicon Marsh as we head into spring!
Bird identification can be a challenge and that is part of the fun of birding. It’s exciting to discover a species we haven’t seen before. Let’s take a bird ID quiz and start with the bird that was easiest for me to identify today. He was spotted along the south side of Highway 49. Do you know what it is? Your answer is worth 2 points.
It is a Ring-billed Gull. It is a bit hard to tell in this picture because the fish is partially impaled on the end of the beak, but there is a dark ring there. The Herring Gull has a red spot on the bottom part of the beak (mandible). The Ring-billed Gull has yellow legs. The Herring Gull has pink legs. Also notice that the Ring-billed Gull has a red eye ring around its yellow eye. You get extra points if you can identify the fish.
This is the next bird I saw. He was frolicking in the water, which is a bit unusual for this bird, in my limited experience. I have always seen it wading. Your correct answer is worth 3 points.
This photo gives us a solid clue as it reveals the bird’s yellow legs.
This is a Lesser Yellowlegs. The bill is dark and slender. The Greater Yellowlegs has a bit thicker bill with a slight upturn at the end. The length of the bill is about equal to the length of the head in this Lesser Yellowlegs. The bill is about 1.5 times the length of the head for the Greater Yellowlegs.
Now let’s look at the most difficult identification of the day. Is this the Short-billed Dowitcher or the Long-billed Dowitcher? Your correct answer is worth 5 points.
Here is another angle.
Apparently, the best way to distinguish the Short-billed from the Long-billed is by their call. You can listen to the Short-billed Dowithcher’s call here and the Long-billed Dowitcher’s call here. Today, there were several Dowitchers wading in the water and they weren’t talking. They were eating. They were probing their long beaks up and down in the water and mud like long sewing machine needles. I think this is the Short-billed Dowitcher. The Short-billed has an orange wash to the face, neck, breast, and underparts. It has variable spotting on the upper breast. The belly can include some white. The Long-billed is brick-red on the underparts and has dark upperparts with reddish markings. It has a barred breast with no white areas on the belly.
How did you do on the quiz? Did you get all 10 points plus the bonus points for the fish identification? I referred to Birds of North America: Eastern Region, Editor-in-Chief Francois Vuilleumier, Field Guide to Birds by Donald and Lillian Stokes, and The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley for my information today. Do you have a favorite bird ID book? Please share your favorites in the comments section.