Every birder has heard the immortal question – “What’s that bird?” Many times it’s an easy species to identify, something with a distinctive shape, color, or call that is unmistakable. Other times it might take a closer look, but it’s still fairly simple to pinpoint the species with good certainty once a few key field marks are noted.
And then there are the gulls, those wonderful, crazy, look-alike birds that go through several subadult plumages, molt into different winter attire, travel in mixed flocks, behave erratically, and in general do everything they can to confuse, frustrate, and stymie birders. What’s that bird? Give the easy answer and just go with gull.
In honor of getting back to school after the holiday break, gearing up for the second semester, and staring down the barrel of state tests, the ACT, SAT, Advanced Placement tests, International Baccalaureate tests, the GRE, LSAT, GATE, MCAT, OAT, ASVAB, PCAT, PRAXIS, and an alphabet soup of other tests, I give you the GULL test…
While my husband is indeed a physics teacher, I’m pleased to say his bird biology is slightly more advanced than this graphic suggests. After a long day of birding, however, even I am inclined to say “It’s a bird!” no matter what flies by, but most especially if it happens to be a gull. Even as much as I enjoy these plucky birds, I have to be in a very accommodating mood to puzzle them out, especially in winter when they’re less than distinct. But even without a clear identity, easy field marks, or absolute certainty, they’re still fun birds to see, and always make me smile!