Lennox Landcare, Nov 20

Have you been practising your Latin lately? Try this mouthful on for size: Chroicocephalus (Larus) novaehollandiae.

Not sure about you, but I’m choking on it. It’s the Latin name for our common chip thief. Did the picture give it away? 

It means coloured head (gull) New Holland. Which doesn’t make sense at first, but then it does, sort of, not really.

Yes, it’s the common seagull, also known as the silver gull. The white head and belly, black-tipped tail feathers and red-orange eyes, beak and feet contrast beautifully with that silky silver-grey. Take a close look at them next time you’re at the beach; in flight they are a picture of airborne perfection – smooth, sleek, effortless, not a feather out of place.

Silver gulls are possibly the most common birds in our area and being consummate opportunists, they are found where food is abundant. They naturally scavenge food along the shoreline: worms, fish, insects, crustaceans and, since the 1950s, our overflowing rubbish tips of which the opportunistic gulls have taken full advantage. As a result, their population has exploded.

Offshore and riverine islands that once supported small breeding colonies are now overrun with silver gulls and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for terns and other seabirds to find breeding space.

Silver gulls breed between August and December and they usually build their nests, from seaweed and plant debris, on the ground. They lay three to four white eggs with  brown speckles. Juvenile silver gulls have a speckled brown plumage too. They also have dark brown beaks, eyes and legs – it’s only when they reach adulthood that their eyes become white and their beaks and legs turn red-orange. In fact, the brighter the red, the older an adult bird is. Or maybe they just don’t use enough sunscreen.

They can live for more than 30 years, despite losing legs from discarded fishing line, the main reason for amputations; so if you see fishing line on the beach or the rocks, please remove it and save a seagull’s legs.

And in case you were wondering: Are hot chips bad for seagulls? Yes they are. Excessive intake can cause vitamin deficiencies and other health complications. A few years ago a seagull was seen flying from a chip feast, only to suddenly fall from the sky, dead. An autopsy revealed its cholesterol levels were 10 times higher than normal. Obviously this chip thief was a glutton, but the point remains. Better we choke our own arteries with cholesterol rather than the seagulls’.

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