Diary entry for Feb. 7, 2012: "While traveling down Route 15 along the Susquehanna River, we saw many gulls on their migration north."
I mentioned to my wife, Mary Alice, who was reading a book, that she should look at all the seagulls on the river. Before I could correct myself, Mary Alice replied that I had told her there was no such bird as a seagull.
Gulls belong to the family Laridae, which comes from the Latin word larus, meaning "seabird."
The most abundant gull in Pennsylvania is the ring-billed gull, Larus delawarensis. The species name is Latin and means "of Delaware" because the specimen first was collected along the Delaware River below Philadelphia.
It is a common gull, especially inland during summer, and looks much like the larger herring gull; however, it is easily distinguished by a black ring near the tip of the bill.
The herring gull is the most abundant gull on the Atlantic coast and possibly the best-known and most widely studied gull of North America and Europe. Its scientific name is Larus argentatus, with the species name being Latin and meaning "silvered." The common name of herring alludes to the fish, which is part of its varied diet
Adult gulls stay mated for life, which is known to exceed 30 years in some species. One captive pair of herring gulls lived more than 45 years.
Many gulls breed for the first time at 2 years; however, larger species such as the herring and ring-billed do not breed until they are 3 or 4 years old.
Non-breeding gulls are attracted to populated areas because of the trash. During the summer, gulls can be found congregating at the parking lot of the Arnot Mall near Horseheads, N.Y. The mall is quite a distance from any large body of water.
The gulls show little or no fear of man and often will catch food thrown to them and even take food from shoppers' hands. After one gull finds food, it won't be long before more gulls fly in, hoping to get a meal.
Landfills often are a stop-over for migrating gulls. I also have seen gulls descend on a freshly plowed field to devour earthworms that have been turned up by the plow.
Gulls drink both salt and fresh water. The salt is eliminated through a pair of glands that are above the eyes.
The glands are well developed in most marine birds. Each is composed of lobes that have a central duct surrounded by capillaries and thousands of salt-extracting cells.
The salt is passed from capillary to cell, flowing in a highly concentrated clear fluid through the ducts into the nasal cavities and is eliminated through the bird's nostrils.
Most gulls eat the young or eggs of other gulls and water birds that nest in or near nesting gulls. Gulls nest in colonies, with each pair having just a few square feet of its own. If a young gull leaves its few square feet of land without the parents' protection, it will be attacked and killed by other gulls.
When looking at seascape pictures, you will have a hard time finding one without a gull flying or sitting on a dock post, because these birds are associated with the sea.
Don't make the mistake that I made and refer to them as seagulls because there always will be someone there to correct you.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.