Posts Tagged ‘still life’

Walking through the willow habitat two days a go, I came upon a dead Ring-billed Gull laying belly down in the last of our snow.  It was missing its head and I thought some other animal had made off with it.  When I turned this bird over on its back, the head was detached and hidden under the body.  A single spot of blood on its belly was the only other sign of damage that I could see.  I assumed that a bird of prey had captured it and perhaps disturbed, had abandoned it before it could make it a meal.  I had never been as close to this type of gull and I admired its white feathers, red orbital ring, and the black banding on its bill that gives this bird its name.  I placed the head in proximity to the body, and took this final portrait.  Then I walked away.

That was last Saturday and I returned the next day to explore a different area of the park.  Spring is near and the endemic birds are starting to feel it.  I watched a pair of Downy Woodpeckers courting and the Cardinals, Song Sparrows, and Carolina Wrens were all singing.  I can’t wait for the migratory birds to start passing through!  As I was walking along, I came across yet another dead Ring-billed Gull and thought how odd I should see another one of these so soon after seeing the first.  At least with this one, I could see that something had been eating it.  I took its picture too and left it.

About a hundred yards away and near the concrete staircase that leads up to the Interpretive Center, I found a third dead gull!  I carefully examined this bird, but could find no signs of damage.  This bird was so fresh that death had yet to stiffen it.  I saw no evidence that a bird of prey had captured it.  I guessed that perhaps one of the few Peregrine Falcons that live near here might be a good candidate for our gull killer, but now I’m not as sure.  The bit of damage I found with the other two, may have resulted from some ground dwelling animal finding an opportunistic meal on the riverbank?  What happened to this third bird?  Was it sick, frozen, or had its internal clock reached its expiration date?  Here are images of this unfortunate, but still beautiful bird.

This was how I found it lying on the rip-rap.  I carefully lifted it up and spread its wings for a photograph.  I could see the diagnostic white spot among the black tip of each wing and the dusty yellow of its webbed feet.  The bit of red along the gape of its bill (which I first mistook for blood) is a sign that this bird was approaching breeding condition. 

Our Ring-billed Gulls arrive at the Falls of the Ohio in autumn and overwinter.  By the spring, they usually migrate back to the Great Lakes region where they are among the few gulls found in the interior of the country.  In the years I have been visiting here, I had never come across a dead one before and now I have seen three in two days!  Has anyone else out there recently observed something similar happening with this species?  I can’t end on such a sad note.  And so, I offer this last image of Ring-billed Gulls doing what they do best…flying.

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