Magazine article Natural History

Gull Oasis

Magazine article Natural History

Gull Oasis

Article excerpt

Every year Niagara Falls attracts scads of visitors, the noisiest of which may belong to the avian mob. Notably the gulls, a family of sea- birds known for their raucous calls, change the tenor of the Niagara River watershed: on some days their numbers exceed 100,000 individuals. Black-headed, great black-backed, slaty-backed, Bonaparte's, Frank- lin's, glaucous, and Iceland gulls are a handful of the nineteen species known to frequent the area. Ring- billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) breed annually in the Niagara Gorge, and it was at the Falls that photographer James Neiss came close enough to touch a few of their straggly nests, each holding two or three brownish, speckled eggs.

Wooden walkways, built anew ever y spring and dismantled before the snow comes, lead down to the base of Bridal Veil Falls. Neiss often accompanies the seasonal work crew on their building adventure, and this year he turned his camera toward the birds. "You'd be amazed at the sound of all the gulls down there," he says. Tourists often race past the nests to experience 65-mile-per- hour wind gusts and blowing water at Hurricane Deck.

Because of their large, conspicu- ous nesting colonies, ring-billed gulls have been deemed a nuisance in many spots around the countr y, including Chicago's beaches. There, city officials have coated more than 84,000 ring-billed gull nests in corn oil since 2007, rendering those eggs unviable; they credit the reduction in the gull population with reducing levels of Escherichia coli in the water. …

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