It was very low tide as I was walking the edge of the beach the other day at Monmouth Beach, a small coastal community situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Shrewsbury River along the Jersey Shore, and located just south of the entrance to New York Harbor.
A large group of gulls had assembled on the sand. At least a 100, maybe more. It looked like the birds were having some sort of convention. Some were sleeping, others were eating, a few more were preening.
The usual cast of characters were all there including Greater Black-backed gulls, Herring Gulls, and Ring-billed gulls. I think there might also have been a few special guest appearances from Iceland Gulls and Bonaparte’s Gulls. The birds were everywhere, but not a single “seagull” could be found, because none exist.
Gulls are an example of animals that often get their name misunderstood. People tend to call any white and gray coastal bird with webbed feet a “seagull.” In fact, there is no such thing as a “seagull.” Look at any field guide and you will see dozens of different species of gulls, but never a “seagull.” The term is often used by misinformed people.
Gulls are actually resourceful, inquisitive and clever birds. They are the original “bay men” of the harbor. Hardy birds that are able to survive cold temperatures, harsh winds and wicked storms to fish another day.
While sitting on the beach watching a few preen themselves on a rock groin, I noticed one young resourceful Herring Gull with a fresh Sea Star in its beak. A spiny skinned echinoderm plucked from the edge of the ocean.
Sea Stars are another sea creature whose name is regularly said incorrectly. People habitually call any star-shaped critter a “starfish.” But again, just like the word “seagull.” this name is not right too.
Starfish aren’t fish. They don’t have scales, fins or tails, or even bones. They don’t swim either, just crawl around very slowly in the ocean. This is why scientists today prefer to call these animals Sea Stars, which are marine invertebrates.
There are over 1,800 known species of Sea Stars, and they live in all of the world's oceans. The most common found near New York Harbor is the Forbes' Asterias Sea Star. They are frequently found offshore or in the crevices of rock jetties or groins. The Forbes Sea Star is a carnivore and will prey on clams, mussels, and barnacles.
Unfortunately for this Sea Star it was the prey today. A prized find for a hungry gull. Birds can be greedy though.
It didn’t take long for another gull, one that seemed to be a much cleaner white as it flew over the beach, become curious and have a real go at stealing the Sea Star from the finder’s beak. An amazing sight started to happen. Aerial acrobatics as the clean white gull kept dive-bombing the other gull, again and again, forcing the gull it to drop its catch and then the clean white gull swooped down for a tasty prize and a good meal.
The connection between Herring Gulls and Sea Stars shown here. Predator and prey. Wild nature near New York Harbor.
For more information, pictures and year-round sightings of wildlife in or near Sandy Hook Bay and Lower New York Bay, please check out my blog entitled, Nature on the Edge of New York City at http://www.natureontheedgenyc.com