Bird Watcher's General Store

Cape Codder Article - "Sea Gull" Hero in Utah - 10/18/02


Dear Bird Folks:

A poster in our school says that the state bird of Utah is the "sea gull." Isn't Utah a long way from the sea? Why would they choose a sea gull as their state bird?
Jason, Grade 8, Plymouth

Hey Jason,

If you think the gull thing is nuts, listen to these other birds that have been chosen as state birds. Our neighbor, Rhode Island, has the chicken as their state bird. That's right, a chicken. They chose an honest-to-goodness chicken as their state bird. Who was governor then, Frank Perdue? Then there was some bonehead in South Dakota who picked the ring-necked pheasant as their state bird. That's a good one. Pheasants aren't even from this continent. Come on, of the 400 different bird species that are native to South Dakota, they couldn't find one that they liked? North Dakota didn't have any trouble. They chose the western meadowlard, a wonderful bird.

A pheasant? (Honest Jason, I'll get to your question in a minute. Just let me finish my rant.) Pheasants are from Asia. They are an introduced species, in the same category as Japanese beetles, the Hong Kong flu and Robin Leach.

Then there is the cardinal (I'm almost done). At last count, there are something like 75 states that have picked the cardinal as their state bird. Hello, we have over 700 bird species in this country. Would it be too hard to choose a bird that hadn't been taken a zillion times already? That's it, I'm done.

After all that, you may be surprised to learn that I think that the sea gull is an excellent choice for Utah. Here is why. Back in 1848, just a few years before Mitt Romney moved in, the crops of the early Mormon settlers were being wiped out. A massive plague of cricket-locust thngs were chowing down all of their crops. The poor Mormons didn't know what to do, except to pray, of course. One guy tried leading them away by playing the flute, but he only ended up attracting rats. But that was OK because the rats were instantly eaten by the locusts.

Suddenly, just when the Mormons thought their crops were about to be totaled, a mass flock of sea gulls appeared out of nowhere. The sea gulls quickly wolfed down every bug in town, saved the crops, and prevented the Mormons from having to go out for dinner every day for the entire winter.

This story is definitely true, but I have one problem. It's the name "sea gull." The name sea gull is a generic name wrongly given to gulls. The name gull is generic enough, the "sea" part should not be added because the sea is not important to many gulls. Millions of gulls live far inland and never get near the ocean, except with their families for two weeks in the summer. Gulls like to be near water, but any large lake or even a river will do fine.

The gulls that saved the settlers were California gulls, but they didn't fly over from California just to help the Mormons. California gulls live in Utah year round. What the Mormons thought was a miracle was simply a flock of California gulls that nested at the nearby Great Salt Lake, eating the same crickets that they have been eating for many years. California gulls look much like the herring gulls that we see around here, only the California gulls are a bit smaller. Their smaller size is probably due to some crazy West Coast diet that has become popular in recent years.

If you ever get to Salt Lake City, Jason, you can see a huge statue erected to the California gull. Unfortunately, the statue says "Sea Gull" on it, not California gull. However, it is still better than having a huge statue of a ring-necked pheasant or Robin Leach.

Artwork by Catherine Clark




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