|Pictured: Laughing Gull—it had stolen, broken & ate the egg of a Skimmer. |
Photograph by Cissy Beasley
Several experts from the Aransas County Navigation District, Texas Parks & Wildlife, US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program presented data and information.
Black Skimmers typically arrive at the circle area of Rockport Beach Park in late spring to nest, and remain there until their chicks have attained maturity and self-sufficiency, usually in July.
The Skimmers have chosen a human environment for their nesting, and with humans and their food, and people's wish also to feed Laughing Gulls (the word "seagull" is incorrect - there is no such term in the world of ornithology), the Skimmers also find themselves in a highly competitive and dangerous environment. At Rockport Beach Park, the biggest threats to Black Skimmers are Laughing Gulls and human beings.
The arrival of Black Skimmers is something of an event, and people want to see them. The Skimmers and their chicks are especially interesting and endearing, so people go on foot up to the barrier fence to get a look. This type of behavior is perceived as a threat to the Skimmers. When in a relaxed state, the birds can fully protect their eggs and chicks with their bodies. However, when they're aroused, such as by the encroachment of a human threat, the birds raise up on their nests and begin vocalizing. Smart and opportunistic gulls are close by, watching everything. When they hear and see the Skimmers becoming concerned, they know it's time to swoop in and steal eggs and chicks.
Laughing Gulls have been well-trained over the years by people that Rockport Beach Park is an easy food source. They have been conditioned to expect not just to find food at the park, but to be handed food. So, they have become aggressive and, with a well-learned attitude of entitlement, will take food...to include the vulnerable chicks of Black Skimmers. Indirectly, park visitors have helped teach the gulls to steal baby birds.
Between humans teaching the gulls to steal food, and humans distracting the Skimmers, we people have set these nesting birds up for the fight of and for their lives. We must stop this now, because as we learned on Sept. 6, the Skimmer population is approaching threatened status.
The Rockport Skimmer colony is a gift to Rockport, and as such, it must be treated with great respect and care. While there are plans in the works to educate the public and discourage gulls from nesting at the park, there are things each of us can do, right now, to help.
- Don't feed the gulls at Rockport Beach Park, or anywhere. Nature provides plenty of food for the gulls. Their population is one of the few that are stable - they don't need any help from humans!
- Talk about this issue with friends and family. Ask them not to feed gulls or any other birds, and ask them to ask THEIR friends and families.
I will return with more information after the next meeting with an update on specific plans to mitigate threats to the Black Skimmers. They need our help, and I bet we can give it to them!"