Look at all the flocking seagulls

In the early morning, I often see flocks of seagulls milling about in the middle of empty (or mostly empty) parking lots. There doesn’t seem like there’s any reason for them to be there at all.
[li]They’re not eating anything that’s been tossed out.[/li][li]There’s no dumpster nearby.[/li][li]There’s no open ground nearby where drowning worms may have crawled out to “safety”[/li][li]There’s no large body of water nearby. The Potomac’s anywhere from 2-10 miles away; the Chesapeake around 40.[/li][li]There’s no slug pick-up point for the carpool lanes :D:D[/li][/ul]

So just what are these flocking birds doing?

Just because you don’t see any food doesn’t mean there isn’t any. Where are those parking lots? At fast food places?

Some gulls are not scavengers, such as the laughing gulls. But many have become scavengers, such as the ubiquitous herring and ring-billed gulls, esp., the herring gulls. You can identify them by the orange spot near the tip of their bills. You are probably seeing herring gulls in the parking lots of fast food places. People drop little bits of food that they’re carrying out and those gulls feed on them. I refer to them as McDonald gulls.

Ring-billed gulls don’t hang around fast food places, but they’re found at beaches or near water, feeding on hand-outs and whatnot there.

Likely, though, they have moved inland for the winter. It’s about 50-ish miles from my house to Melbourne, so from November to March, there are a lot more gulls in the area than the rest of the year.

Also, if there is a landfill nearby, you will get lots of seagulls staying permanently around.

There is a McDonald’s in the particular shopping center I saw them in this morning. But they were in the middle of the larger parking area, about 100 ft. from the McD’s. I’m sure I would’ve seen food and/or trash around there too.

There was also no pooled water, where food debris might have collected, nor a drain, where similar debris might be concentrated.

The parking lot was about 10% full, with all of the cars being as close to the store fronts as possible. (This was a C-shaped strip mall with the McD’s at the middle of the open end.)

There’s definately no landfills nearby. This is “inside the Beltway” of DC, where land is a premium. The closest landfills I can think of are 30 miles away.

My WAG would be that (unused) parking lots are just a relatively safe place to hang out when not foraging. They offer a completely unobstructed field of view, both all around and overhead, for the gulls to detect approaching predators. And the gulls hang out together for the same reason: with a large number of watchful eyes all together some will always be alert even while others relax from time to time.

I have seen gulls do the same thing at deserted parking lots at the beach in winter. They rest together there when not foraging along the water.

I’ll echo Colibri on this - the gulls are loafing. Seriously, that’s the technical term for, well, loafing about.

We’ve documented gull (Laughing, Herring, Ring-billed, and Great Black-backed) behavior here in New Jersey at airports and garbage dumps and loafing is one thing gulls do really well and often. After all, once you’ve got a belly full of Japanese beetles, blueberries, or Nathan’s hotdogs, you might as well sit back and digest the stuff. And if you’re going to take that siesta, it’s a lot safer to do it with friends in an environment where someone’s bound to spot that nasty predator on the move. Right on, Colibri.

We also get gobs of gulls on maintained lawns (corporate or playing fields) as well as parking lots.

Well, they’re probably looking for work … after all, Mike Score and the gang haven’t had a hit since 1983.
[ducks and runs, runs so far away]

I’ve always had a theory, and any ornithologists out there can correct me if I’m wrong, that gulls are attracted to parking lots because they mistake them for bodies of water. Large, open spaces, of a more-or-less uniform coloration, with boats (cars) moored (parked) as if it were a marina. Most parking lots have “islands” and lord knows there’s enough loose food if there’s a restaurant/fast food place either in the mall or separated from it.

I thought I recognized that haircut I saw on one of them. :smiley:

A technical term yet! Thanx!

I doubt it very much. Gulls are a lot smarter than that. As brachyrhynchos said, they also loaf on lawns, and I often see them loafing on bare earth on construction sites. The main requirement is an open area with an unobstructed view.

While I was working in Denver, questions came up regarding flocks of seagulls that were, er, loafing I guess, in our parking lot. Mainly along the lines of “What are SEAGULLS doing in Denver, a thousand miles away from an ocean?”, as well as the inevitable jokes about rock bands (“Flock of Seagulls” was more current then). It eventually prompted a reply from my office mate’s wife, who was an ornithologist, on the habits and distribution of seagulls. Which, indeed, includes Colorado.

Yeah, a lot of people wonder why the “Seagull” is the state bird of Utah. (Supposedly gulls saved the crops of early Mormon settlers by devouring a plague of locusts.) Ornithologists tend to just refer to them as “gulls,” because there are lots of species that primarily live (at least during the breeding season) in inland areas.

I’m with Colibri.

Think about it for a second: A gull landing on water sticks his feet out, spreads his wings, and brakes most of the way. He splashes down and “skids” for a bit on his belly, wings outstretched, before coming to a complete stop. He then folds his wings.

A gull landing on a solid surface, on the other hand, has to brake almost to zero before his feet hit the ground, lest he be injured. He pulls up slightly before his feet touch, then drops a bit and does a little run for a couple of steps. Then he stops, and folds his wings.

If a gull mistook a parking lot for a body of water, and came in for a landing, he would plow feet-first into the asphalt, crash face-forward, and tumble beak-over-tailfeathers. An amusing image for some of us, perhaps, but the fact that you never see it means, logically, that the gull must be able to differentiate a solid surface from water, and therefore adjusts his landing technique appropriately.

I remember some nature film footage showing how some seabird (a goony bird, or something like that) landed on beaches. Astonishingly clumsily is how, doing about what you suggest, essentially crash landing and plowing beak first into the sand half the time. After which the bird gets up seemingly unconcerned about its performance and waddles around. Reminds you of the old pilots adage about any landing you can walk away from being a good one. I wonder if it’s because they just land they way they would on water, and since it apparently doesn’t hurt them, and gets the job done they have no need to evolve a better technique?

I saw that too, Yabob. It was a booby bird, a blue-footed booby, I believe. A close cousin of an albatross.

*Originally posted by yabob *

What you most likely saw were albatrosses, some of which are called “gooneybirds” exactly because of their landing technique, plus their lack of fear of people on the remote islands where they nest.

Albatrosses are highly adapted to soaring endlessly over the open sea without flapping their wings. Some stay at sea for years at a time, only coming to land to breed. Because their wings are highly modified for soaring, they are not very good at hovering - they need a lot of airspeed to maintain enough lift to stay aloft. So basically they land that way because (1) it’s tough for them to land at low speed; and (2) they don’t need to set down on land very much.

Most gulls on the other hand are quite good at low-speed flight and can hover pretty well (to pluck an item off the sea surface, for example). They don’t have much trouble landing on a solid surface.

Yeah, boobies are sometimes called gooneybirds too. Their landing technique isn’t that hot either, but not as bad as an albatross. Yabob’s description sounds a bit closer to an albatross to me, but it could be either.

They’re not particularly closely related to albatrosses (though they look somewhat similar), but are much closer to cormorants.

At the grocery store near my house there is an old man who buys old bread and feeds the gulls everyday. The store (Albertsons) has been having a battle with the old man because they don’t want him to feed the gulls because they consider them a nusance. There were several articles in the newspaper about this with the store quoted as saying,‘the man should go the the park if he wans to feed the birds.’ And the old man saying,’ I’m 80 and cant drive, so I cant get to the park.’

The whole thing was really sad.