Photo credit: Dan Lory

It's ironic. If only there were not so many of them, the Ring-billed Gull would probably be one of our most treasured birds. The crisp, clean colors of an adult bird; the graceful, playful flight of a group of youngsters; the arrogant, mischievous demeanor of a gang lined up on a pier; their important role as scavengers, helping keep our waterways clean. It all adds up to one really neat bird.

But they are so numerous that we tend to take them for granted. Like the waves and the sand and the rocks that define our experience of an ocean or lake, these beautiful birds are part of the landscape. We usually pay about as much attention to them as we do to the individual waves. 

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Next time you see a Ring-billed Gull...or 2, or 20... pay attention. They're clever, and curious, and graceful, and playful. I often walk along a rocky Lake Michigan shoreline, 10 feet or so above the level of the lake. Gulls are constantly cruising up and down the shoreline. On days when I have a strong north wind at my back, it's not unusual for several Ring-billed Gulls who are heading the opposite direction into the wind, to pause when they reach me, and hover just 20 yards off my left shoulder, drifting backward to stay even with me as I walk. They give sidelong glances, pretending not to be looking at me. Or sometimes, when I can feel them actually staring at me, I suddenly jerk my head in their direction and watch them quickly look away and check their smart phones, like that person on the bus you catch staring at you.

One time, along that same shoreline, I sat and watched a Ring-billed Gull playing with a bright yellow tennis ball. It would fly high, drop the ball, watch carefully until it hit the water, and then dive down and scoop it up. Over and over. I moved on after about 10 minutes, but the gull was still going at it.

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The plumage of Ring-billed Gulls differs dramatically, depending on their age and time of year, making it sometimes pretty difficult to tell a Ring-billed Gull from other gulls. I hope I don't have any mistaken IDs in the attached photos!

Dan's Feathursday Feature is a weekly contribution to the COS blog featuring the thoughts, insights and pictures of Chicago birder, Dan Lory on birds of the Chicago region.