Animals: They were here first
Of all the birds in Utah, the California Gull is the official state bird. There’s a story behind this unusual honor bestowed upon the lowly gull that populates the coastline of California.
Utah’s online history library, Pioneer, relates why this bird became so revered by the people. Old diaries and newspaper articles document the legend. Here is an excerpt from the Pioneer website that includes the story written by Orson F. Whitney who was city editor for the Deseret News in the late 1800s:
The Callifornia gull, Larus californicus, was selected as the state bird of Utah by an act of the legislature in 1955 (Utah Code). Note: The state bird is the California gull, however Utah Code generically lists it as the sea gull.
The California gull is considered the state bird of Utah by common consent, probably in commemoration of the fact that these gulls saved the people of the State by eating up hordes of crickets which were destroying the crops in 1848.
Orson F. Whitney says that in the midst of the devastation of the crickets, "when it seemed that nothing could stay the devastation, great flocks of gulls appeared, filling the air with their white wings and plaintive cries, and settled down upon the half-ruined fields. All day long they gorged themselves, and when full, disgorged and feasted again, the white gulls upon the black crickets, list hosts of heaven and hell contending, until the pests were vanquished and the people were saved." After devouring the crickets, the gulls returned "to the lake islands whence they came."
Of course, some people dispute this story as the miracle that some say it was, nevertheless, the fact remains that the gulls helped out and the crops were saved and the people survived that year in Utah. Yet another example of animals interacting with our lives on a level that we don’t have to understand, but can acknowledge in gratitude.
And here are a few facts about the California Gull:
The California Gull adults are roughly 19-21 inches (47-54 cm) in length with a wingspan of up to 51 inches (130 cm). Their head is white with a yellow bill. The neck and under parts are also white. The gull's back and wings are dark gray. The legs and feet are a greenish-yellow color. Breeding and nesting time frame for California Gulls is usually in May to July. The nest is typically a shallow depression on the ground lined with vegetation and feathers. The female gull normally lays 2 or 3 eggs. Both parents will take turns feeding the young birds. The California Gull is a “four-year gull,” in that it takes four years for them to reach adult plumage.
The California Gull can be found on the pacific coastline from northern Mexico to British Columbia. They range far inland from New Mexico to Manitoba. They prefer to eat insects, fish and eggs, however, they are well known for scavenging at garbage dumps or docks. They have also been seen to follow farmers plowing in fields, eating the insects stirred up by this activity.
The California Gull has an interesting foraging strategy for catching alkali flies along the shores of salty lakes in the Great Basin in the western United States. It starts at one end of a huge swarm of flies sitting on the beach and runs through the flies with its head down and bill open, snapping up flies. California Gulls have a life expectancy of up to 24 years.