Ring-billed Gull – a vagrant at the Faehre Hitdorf / Germany

During the last days one adult Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) in non-breeding plumage, continues to stay near the town of Monheim in the state of North Rhine/ Westfalia in Germany at the river Rhine. The bird was first spotted on January, 09th 2013. The location “Faehre Hitdorf” is a place where a ferry crosses the river Rhine, roughly 30km south of the state capital, Dusseldorf. This gull is obviously only the 8th record for the Germany since 2002. Normally this vagrant is found not too far inland. Accordingly most records are from the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. In his „Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas“, Band 8/I „Charadriiformes, Stercorariidae – Laridae“ Urs N. Glutz von Blotzheim mentioned 1982 only 1 record for the central part of the western palearctis from January, 13th 1968. Weather this is due to a higher observation density, due to the population growth on the eastern coast of the USA (see e.g. “Recent Changes in the Ring-Billed Gull Population and Biology in the Laurentian Great Lakes” by James P. Ludwig in “The Auk” Vol. 91, No. 3 (Jul., 1974) or due to a change in the migration pattern is not clear. Interesting is, that between 1973 (first record) and 1980 there were – in contrast – 37 recorded observations in Great Britain.

The conservation status of the Ring-billed Gull by IUCN is “Least Concern”. After having suffered heavy losses due to hunting and habitat loss, Ring-billed Gulls once again thrive across the United States and southern Canada—so numerous in some places that they are considered pests. This species was nearly wiped out by human persecution and development between 1850 and 1920. The populations fell dramatically when humans persecuted the gulls on their nesting grounds and killed them for feathers to decorate hats. By the early 1900s many breeding sites have been abandoned. Protection under the 1917 Migratory Birds Convention Act (Canada) and 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (U.S.) helped bring the species back. In the middle of the 20 century, Ring-billed Gulls around Lake Ontario proved susceptible to the pesticide DDT and to PCB pollution. Environmental regulations in the 1970s helped reduce pollution levels. This helped this gull to become a common and familiar bird. An estimated 3 to 4 million individuals inhabited North America in 1990. Humans have in general helped Ring-billed Gulls by accident by providing extra foods, including introduced fish; insects and grain exposed on farm fields; and discarded food and refuse. The Ring-billed Gull continues to extend its breeding range—likely thanks to the edible garbage available at open landfills.

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