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A coastal resident often seen on wharves, jetties and docks, the western gull dresses in spectacular white plumage with a dark slate-gray mantle. It catches fish by diving or wading. Often seen following fishing boats, this gull commonly feeds on scraps thrown overboard by fish cleaners.
The western gull has a small population, with limited distribution along the west coast of North America. Even though gulls prey on other birds, they don’t deserve their reputation of being a nuisance or an undesirable pest. For example, their breeding areas were once destroyed because people thought the gulls preyed on black-crowned night herons, when actually the opposite is true. The western gull feeds largely on small, surface-feeding fish of no use to sport fishermen.
The gulls are subject to contaminants in their food, especially when eating human refuse. Feeding gulls or any other birds your picnic or snack leftovers is harmful to the birds’ health.
To break open the shells of their prey—like sea urchins and clams—western gulls drop them from high in the air to hard surfaces below. They also harass cormorants and pelicans, forcing them to regurgitate their catch, which the gulls quickly gobble up.
Western gulls feed on refuse only when natural prey is scarce. Birds that feed on refuse sometimes have lower breeding success.
Western gulls aren’t shy birds. They often invite themselves to the otter feeding programs at the aquarium.