THIS MAY BE THE PERFECT GULL. Cosmopolitan, versatile and elegant in flight, Bonaparte’s Gull is a gull for people who may not like gulls (the poor souls). It slices the frigid air like a swallow. It drifts and swoops and swirls before me here on the Niagara River as the giant falls roar in the distance.
I’ve come to Niagara Falls not for a visit to the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum, not for Madam Tussaud’s wax statues. I’ve come instead to honeymoon with the gulls that gather here by the thousands and thousands each winter. It is heaven before Thanksgiving with my family. For gulls today I am grateful.
Niagara is where a few skilled birders set a record for gulls observed in a single day: 14 species. (My best is 10 species in a day on the Massachusetts coast.) A California Gull or two show up here regularly each winter. Sure, I find Little Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull during my short stop at Niagara. Yet during this all-too-brief three hours in the company of what seem to be three million gulls, for the Bonaparte’s Gulls I give the most thanks.
They pluck fish from near the river’s surface. They swarm in the misty rainbow near the falls. And they add elegance to the more pedestrian (but still wonderful) mix of common Herring Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls spread out forever along the river. They are ballerinas among ballroom dancers. And to all of them I owe a debt of gratitude.
If you are near water this time of year (or a garbage dump or a fast-food joint), get out for gulls. Do it now because now is when Bonaparte’s Gulls visit with most us, either in migration or on their wintering grounds along our coasts. The rest of the year they’re far away — breeding around remote ponds, bogs and bays across the taiga and boreal forests of Canada and Alaska.
So as you walk off your turkey supper tomorrow near water, watch for the gull with the white flash on the wing, the gull that has lost its black hood for winter, the dainty gull among brutes. Watch it flutter like a butterfly or glide like a hawk or plop to the water to feed.
On your gluttonous day of gratitude, save room for dessert — for Bonaparte’s Gull.