The following excerpt is from  Gulls on the Niagara Frontier  (Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, Miscellaneous Contributions, No. 20, 1977. Reprinted from Kingbird, XXVII, No. 3, 1977), by Robert F. Andrle, and is reproduced here with his permission.  The full text includes photographs, a map of the Niagara River, discussion of best viewing areas, distribution and abundance of species and subspecies.



Robert F. Andrle


Bordered by two of the Great Lakes and crossed by a major river, the Niagara Frontier Region, which includes the western portion of New York State and part of the Niagara peninsula of Ontario, is an outstanding area for gulls.  It is one of the very best areas in North America, and probably in the world, for viewing large numbers and a great variety of these fascinating birds.  Sixteen species plus one subspecies have been recorded here so far, and keen observers have tallied 13 species in one day on the Niagara River.  At times in fall, there have been over 100,000 gull present in the region, most of them on the Niagara.


Species identified in the region are:  Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull (2ssp.), Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Herring Gull, Thayer's Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Mew Gull, Black-headed Gull, Laughing Gull, Franklin's Gull, Bonaparte's Gull, Little Gull, Ivory Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake and Sabine's Gull.   In addition, individuals have appeared here which are probably hybrids, and others have shown plumage variations that are probably due to aberrancy or some other factor.

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The Niagara River is largely ice-free in winter and provides a year-round source of food for gulls, as well as a migratory route in season.  Gulls are also attracted in numbers to the shores and offshore areas of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.  Less often, and in considerably lower numbers and variety, they range inland in western New York, sometimes following streams or frequenting lakes, plowed fields, refuse dumps and other open land.  The abundance of small fish, such as shiners (Notropis), alewives (Pomolobus), gizzard shad (Dorosoma) and smelt (Osmerus), in the Niagara and the Great Lakes attracts these multitudes of gulls, especially in autumn and early winter.  The late summer and early fall swarms of caddisflies on the Niagara also are an important source of food for the medium-sized and small-sized gulls.


We have often thought that, if more observation and considerable banding or color marking were possible in eastern Canadian Arctic and subarctic gull colonies, more about their identification, plumages and distribution might be learned by collecting, photographing or observing such individuals that reach the Niagara Frontier Region and other northeastern United States and southern Canada locations.  There is no question that gulls, as intriguing subjects for observation, study and the simple appreciation of their beauty, arouse the curiosity and interest of many field birders, especially in places like the Niagara Frontier Region where their great numbers and variety provide a constant stimulus to identify and learn more about them.


About the Author


Robert F. Andrle has had a special interest in gulls for many years, and has studied them both in the Niagara Frontier Region and in various other places in the world.  He earned his Ph.D. at Louisiana State University and is the former Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Buffalo Museum of Science.  He has also been interested for a long time in tropical ornithology and has published on the results of his research in Latin America and the West Indies.  He is a Fellow and past president of the Buffalo Ornithological Society and is currently one of its Statisticians.  An elective member of the American Ornithologist's Union, Dr. Andrle is also a member of the Wilson Ornithological Society and the Cooper Ornithological Society, in whose journals some of his scientific papers have appeared.  He is co-editor, along with Janet R. Carroll, of The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York. 1988)