A 1,700-mile journey by a herring gull from Great Duck Island, Maine to Pascagoula, Mississippi has been tracked by researchers here, marking the longest known flight by a locally banded bird in COA history.
The gull, banded during the summer of 2015 by students doing field ecology research on COA’s Great Duck Island, was photographed in late January at Pascagoula Point Park in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The distance is the longest recorded over 17 years of banding.
“I just looked this guy up in the chick check notebook, and he was one of our chick check chicks! He belonged to nest 235, and Rachel and I color banded him on the 22nd of July!” an excited Audra McTague ’19 said.
Boundaries transcend geography
The discovery heartily illustrates the idea that what we tend to think of as distinct ecosystems, in this case the Gulf of Maine as compared to the Gulf of Mexico, are actually quite connected, said faculty member and W.H. Drury Professor of Ecology/Natural History John Anderson.
“People associate gulls with their seaside experience but they seldom stop to think where those gulls come from and on what they depend,” Anderson said. “Here we see a rather dramatic answer to that question. Mississippi gulls come, in part, all the way from Maine! Maine gull chicks find what they need in the Gulf of Mexico. Boundaries are species dependent.”
Annual island research
Anderson heads up COA’s Island Research Institute, which, in turn, oversees research efforts on Great Duck Island. Each summer a team of students spends June and July on Great Duck, working on studies of Herring and Black Backed Gulls, Guillemots, and Leach’s Storm Petrels. Work at Great Duck is done in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy and the State of Maine, co-owners of the bulk of the island.
The banding program is set to expand this summer, thanks to a blossoming partnership between COA and The Island Institute, Anderson said.