Opinion Column

Birdwatch: The Franklins' Gull, which is rare to the area, was recently spotted

Ken Hooles

By Ken Hooles, Daily Observer

Fotolia photo 
A pair of Franklin's Gulls is seen here on the Gulf Coast.The bird, rare to this area, was recently sponsored by a local birding enthusiast.

Fotolia photo A pair of Franklin's Gulls is seen here on the Gulf Coast.The bird, rare to this area, was recently sponsored by a local birding enthusiast.

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A couple of weeks ago, Mark Dojzcman of Pembroke spotted a small gull with a black head sitting on a sandbar among several Ring-billed Gulls at the Pembroke Marina. Normally, this would probably be a Bonaparte's Gull; however, Mark was certain that it was a Franklin’s Gull, a very rare bird for this area. This is only the third sighting of Franklin’s Gull in our area. The last sighting was also by Mark back in September 2011.The first record of this Western gull in our county dates back to September 2003 and was observed by Bruce Dilabio of Ottawa.

The Franklin's Gull (Larus pipixan) is a resident of the Canadian prairies. In the past, it was often nicknamed the Prairie Dove by locals.

In the summer, the Franklin’s Gull has a black head and in the winter a white head with a slight grayish colour. It’s back and under parts are white and its wings are light grey. It also has a white band on its tail and black tips at the end of its tail. It is easily distinguished from the Bonaparte Gull by its red bill, legs and feet. The Bonaparte Gull has a black bill and black legs and feet. During the summer, the Franklin’s Gull can also be distinguished from the Bonaparte’s Gull by its white crescent shape above and below its eye. The Bonaparte Gull has a complete white circle around its eye.

In the summer, the Franklin’s Gull is mainly found on land, but in the winter it is located on the Pacific Ocean around Central America. This bird forages for food by walking, wading or swimming and occasionally hovering over its prey. It eats insects, fish, leeches, earthworms, crustaceans and snails. When it is in the Prairies, it is often seen following farmer’s ploughs and feeding on grubs or other insects.

This gull is monogamous and breeds in colonies with other gulls. The nest is made by both sexes and usually consists of a hollow groove on the ground or rocky ledge. The nest is lined with bulrushes, cattails and other plant material.

The Franklin’s Gull has only one brood per year. The eggs are incubated by both sexes for about 18 to 25 days, and the young are fed by both parents. They take their first flight in another 32 to 35 days.

The Franklin’s Gull is common in its range in the Prairies and parts of the North mid-west states. The population of this gull varies at times due to rainfall and drought conditions. It migrates to the Pacific Ocean in Central America and is considered rare when it makes an appearance either in the West or East coast of Canada. It is very rare for our area. Nice sighting, Mark!

On the local scene, the fall migration continues with the arrival of more Canada Geese and some Snow Geese. There are also reports of some early waterfowl migration with the sighting of Horned and Red-necked Grebes, Scaup and Black and Surf Scoters. There are also some reports of shorebirds including several small sandpipers, Black bellied and Golden Plovers, Dunlin, and Pectoral Sandpipers. After a short delay, the last of the migrating Northern warblers are passing through including Blackpoll, Palm and Orange-crowned warblers. These can be seen either individually or in small pockets with other birds. There are also several small pockets of migrating sparrows that can be seen along our roadways.

Finally, I have had some reports of the arrival of Dark-eyed Juncos and Horned Larks. The next arrivals should be America Pipits along our beaches and White-crowned and Fox Sparrows in our yards.

On Oct. 1, Doreen Wright of Pembroke informed me that she still had a female juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbird coming to her Hummingbird feeder. There are always a few that are late to leave. Hopefully, with the recent mild weather it has now moved on South.

On this same date, Vince Agnesi of Sheenboro spotted four Redhead ducks off Alumette Island, and a scarce Yellow-throated Vireo in his area. Both are good sightings for this time of the year!

Finally, on Oct. 2, Liz Link of Barron Canyon Road reported three Dark-eyed Juncos and a White-throated Sparrow in her yard. The rest of these birds should be arriving shortly.

Please call me with your bird sightings at 613-735-4430 or email me at hooles@bell.net. For more information on upcoming nature events and other links to nature, I refer you to the Pembroke Area Field Naturalists’ website at www.pafn.on.ca.