14 December 2011

Gull Recollections Along Shore of Great Salt Lake

For the Editor:

During one of my voyages on our glorious inland sea the past summer, it was my good fortune to gain a little information regarding one of the most useful, and probably the least appreciated, of our feathery tribe — the sea gull.

Probably no other member of the animal creation has figured so prominently in the early history of the settlement of this valley. Many a one will recollect that momentous period in the history of the early settlers, when the grain bins were empty and the population — men women and children — were for days fighting the ever-advancing crickets, (whose numbers were so over-whelming) devouring field after field of the growing crops; and when all efforts had failed to check the advance — starvation staring the people in the face, and the stoutest heart had given up, behold their salvation. These noble birds came in countless numbers, made war upon the crickets, and followed them even into the door yards. Thus the destroyer is himself destroyed and the crops are saved, and he colonization of the Great American Desert is made possible. It is well then that we should get better acquainted with our friends, the gulls.

It is the belief of many that these birds are not natives here. But such is not the case.

It may here be asked that, while the gull appears to be anything but a shy bird, in fact pays but little regard to the presence of man, and while in quest of food will alight within a few feet of the plowman; how many are there that have seen their nesting places? I will venture to say that there are no birds more particular upon this point. They will not lay where man can molest them, but far away on some lonely beach, or sand bar, where man's foot has possibly never trod, they will establish. They build no nests, simply scratch a hole in the sand; do not conceal the eggs, but leave them exposed to the weather and the rays of the sun. Like most sea fowl they go in colonies. While sailing between Stansbury and Carrington Islands, my attention was called to constant flocks of these birds flying low over the water, general direction east and west. Their rapid flight indicated business of importance. We decided that their nesting places must be somewhere west of us and that they were going east for food to feed their young. That evening we anchored in a beautiful bay on Carrington Island. Early next morning, while the cook was wrestling with the frying-pan and coffee-pot, I determined to explore. From the south-west shore of the island, I found a low sand bar extending out into Lake; this I followed. It was quite narrow, sometimes not over three feet wide, and not over six inches above low water mark at the highest point. After following this possibly two miles, the gulls became very numerous, their discordant cries were deafening. They would swoop down close to my head as though determined to attack and expel the intruder from their sacred domain. Upon the very end of this reef was a sand knoll, which was probably at the highest part three feet above the lake, and this desolate place the birds had selected for their nesting ground. It was literally covered with nests; upon the highest point was a few dead greasewood roots; this seemed to be the favorite spot for the roots afforded some little shelter, and prevented the shifting of the sand in the wind; it was impossible to walk across this without stepping on some nest, if such they might be called. But what desolation! Not a straw, not a weed, not even a twig — nothing but the shifting sand, and the litter of the birds. This spot must be fifty miles west of the base of food supply, and probably thousands of birds have been reared on it during the past summer. What patient toiling on the part of the parent birds in finding supplies, and what millions of grasshoppers, crickets and beetles must have been consumed.

One peculiar feature of the bird is its capacity to disgorge the contents of its crop, or outer-stomach, at will. This makes his capacity as a destroyer of vermin unlimited, and keeps his appetite always good. He will eat as long as food remains in sight. It also helps him to carry food a long distance to the young, for he can gather the grasshoppers in our fields, and after carrying them for miles, disgorge at his pleasure.

I selected a nice specimen full size, but not yet able to fly, who in order to hide himself had stuck his bill in the sand and covered up his eyes and thought himself secure.

I trudged painfully back through the wet sand, just in time to catch a gale from the cook for keeping breakfast waiting and spoiling his coffee.

Salt Lake City, Feb. 13, 1885.
Royer. February 15, 1885. The gulls. Some facts about our feathered friends. Recollections of a rover. A morning's experience along the shores of the Great Salt Lake - a sailor's story. Salt Lake Herald 15(215): 1.