Fishin’ Hole Nature
Article and photos by Bronwyn Clear, Certified Texas Master Naturalist
There are lots of birds that hunt for fish in Lake Livingston, but one of the best friends a fisherman has is the gull because gulls can point the way to the fish. Year around they dot the water, white and evenly spaced, and from a fishing boat they can be spotted on the horizon as they flap up and fuss over shad near the surface. Their squabbling and squawking can be heard even when your boat is a long way off, and they might just help aim your boat to a good fishing spot.
People call them seagulls, but most of our gulls like both the saltwater seas and freshwater lakes. Thousands of gulls migrate here to our lake for the winter. There are several different species on Lake Livingston, and they all fly together, swim together, and hunt together. They also excel at stealing food from each other or any other nearby water bird! They chase, harass and squabble until fellow birds drop their meals. Gulls feed while in flight by skidding down briefly to the water, snatching the catch and quickly taking off. Talk about Fast Food! This “Grab & Go” technique is very important for getting away from the other gulls that are trying to steal their meal. Terns are water birds that travel and hunt with gulls, and look very much like gulls from a distance. But they can readily be distinguished from gulls by their different feeding technique. Terns will plunge-dive and smash into the water to catch their fish food, while gulls swoop and grab.
Gull coloration is somewhat variable depending on the season. As an example, Laughing Gulls migrate in by the thousands for our winters, and they have light gray to white heads during the cold months. The same white-headed gull seen in winter has head feathers that turn very black in summer! This wonderful light to dark color change signifies it’s breeding time, and the color change occurs in several gull species. A few of our wintering gulls will stay around Lake Livingston for summer, but only then will you see their dark heads.
Identifying all the different gulls does not really matter to most fishermen, but what the gulls identify for the fishermen is important. They catch our attention and might help show us good fishing spots. And sometimes it is not just about the fishing. Sometimes these vigilantes will warn you by fuming over and fiercely dive-bombing a quiet alligator at your favorite shallow fishing spot!
All gulls are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it illegal for people to harass, possess or harm them, or their nests and eggs.
Learn more about the incredible nature in our area by joining a chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist organization. To find a chapter close to you, or to read about the state program, go online to www.txmn.org. Volunteer and get involved!
Bonaparte’s Gulls winter on Lake Livingston. They dot the water when at rest, and fly off in search of food, or calmer waters.
The fast “Grab and Go” feeding tactic of all gulls is displayed by this little Bonaparte’s Gull
Ring-billed gulls are big fellows with light yellow eyes, and the namesake dark ring around their beaks.
The Bonaparte Gull is much smaller compared to the large Ring-billed Gull.
Laughing Gulls flock together in Wolf Creek Park during colder months. As their name implies, they make a raucous laughing noise. Here they display white heads during the non-breeding months.
Like many gull species, during the summer breeding months a Laughing Gull’s head feathers become very dark.