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Sunday, September 15, 2013

First Winter Herring Gull

A young herring gull, Larus argentatus, flying with a crab in its mouth. Herring gulls are common on both American coasts in winter. Click to enlarge.  
Herring gulls take four years to acquire their adult plumage, molting into different sets of feathers, each with a distinctive appearance, each summer and winter. The bird pictured above was born this year and is in its first winter plumage now in September: mottled brown all over, patterned wings, slightly paler head with a dark eye, a mostly black bill, and pink legs.

Walt Whitman, the poet, also stopped to watch gulls. He might have been thinking about herring gulls when he wrote this in his poem Crossing Brooklyn Ferry:

 ... seagulls -- I saw them high in the air, floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies, I saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies, left the rest in shadow, I saw the slow-wheeling circles, and the gradual edging toward the south. 

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