Nature’s World: No seas, but plenty of gulls

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 30, 2003

The phone rings.

It has to; that’s what phones do.

It is my neighbor Crandall.

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“Who dialed the number for you?” I ask.

“If I had the time, I would say something funny so you could see the difference, but I don’t have the time.”

“What’s up?”

“It’s that cat that my sister Cruella left with me.

I hate that cat.

I decided to get rid of it.

I drove it 10 miles away and left the cursed thing there.

The very next day, the cat was back at my place.”

“Smart cat,” I say.

“The next day after its triumphant return, I drove the cat 20 miles away.

Two days later, it showed up at my front door.

Yesterday, I drove the cat 100 miles away and dumped him.”

“This is a real heartwarming story, Crandall, but why call me up and tell it to me?”

“I want you to run over to my house.

Can you do that for me?” asks my neighbor.


What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to see if that cat is there?”


“If the cat is there, put the feline on the phone.

I’m lost and I need directions home.”

The sea gull

We call them sea gulls, but are they really?

We don’t have any seas in Minnesota. But we have plenty of gulls.

If they are sea gulls, we live on the largest beach in the country. We see the gulls along lakes and rivers.

Maybe we should call them lake gulls or river gulls?

Of course, if they were along a bay, they would be bay gulls.

The state bird of Minnesota, of course, is the loon.

Iowa’s state bird is the goldfinch, Wisconsin’s is the robin, Nebraska and North Dakota have the meadowlark, South Dakota the pheasant, Missouri has the bluebird and Illinois features the cardinal.

All fine birds.

Utah’s state bird is the California Gull.

It is a bird that most people would call a sea gull.

We don’t think of a sea gull as a bird that becomes a state bird.

How did this gull become the state bird of Utah?

It was 1848 and the Mormon pioneers had plowed and planted 5,000 acres of land in the Salt Lake Valley.

The crops were good and promised to provide the pioneers with a bountiful crop of grains and vegetables.

It seemed certain that everyone would have plenty to eat.

Then a terrible thing happened.

Swarms of crickets began to devour the crops.

The pioneers battled the crickets with everything in their power.

They hit the insects with fire, water, brooms, clubs and shovels. They fought the crickets with all their might, but to no avail.

The voracious crickets kept coming.

Their strength sapped, terror struck the people as they watched their crops disappear-the crops they had worked so hard to grow.

In exhaustion and desperation, the settlers fell to their knees and prayed for help.

Out of the western sky came flocks of California Gulls.

The gulls swooped down upon the crickets, eating them as though the birds hadn’t eaten in days.

The birds fed for days until the crickets were all gone.

Gulls have an appetite for almost anything that won’t eat them.

Shakespeare wrote of people that he called gulls.

It was short for “gullible,” meaning that they would swallow anything.

Orson Whitney wrote, “When it seemed that nothing could stay the devastation, great flocks of gulls appeared, filling the air with their white wings and plaintive cries, and settled down upon the half-ruined fields.

All day long they gorged themselves, and when full, disgorged and feasted again, the white gulls upon the black crickets, like hosts of heaven and hell contending, until the pests were vanquished and the people were saved.”

Large colonies of California Gulls breed on Utah’s Salt Lake and Utah Lake.

They measure 20-23 inches long.

This gull has a gray mantle, an orange spot near the tip of the lower mandible of its bill and greenish-yellow feet.

The outer primary wing feathers are black, tipped with white.

The so-called Mormon cricket is not a true cricket.

They are large insects, up to two and one-half inches long, that can be economically devastating.

It has been calculated that Mormon crickets at a density of one per square yard can consume 38 pounds of dry weight rangeland forage per acre.

During infestations today, road signs read, “Crickets on Highway.

Slick Road.”

Crickets smashed by automobiles pop like bubble wrap and create a mush that is slicker than ice.

Today, the chief weapon people fight the Mormon crickets with is carbaryl, an insecticide commonly known as Sevin.

The pioneers had no Sevin.

They had gulls.

Part of the crop had been saved thanks to the gulls.

The pioneers would at least have enough food to survive until they planted another crop the next year.

The Mormons were thankful.

Without the unexpected allies, they would have been defeated.

If you should happen to visit Salt Lake City, you might see a bronze monument to the sea gull. On Feb. 14, 1955, the California Gull was adopted as the state bird of Utah.

The Pelican Breeze

Please join me as I host a couple of trips on the Pelican Breeze today.

The trips will be at 2 pm and again at 4 pm.

Your presence would make my day.

Call 383-2630 to book a seat.

Things that make it worth getting out of bed

-Higbie Gardens along Highway 13 in Albert Lea.

Thanks to the hard work of the Shades of Jade Regional Garden Club, this place is a masterpiece.

-White Woods County Park near Twin Lakes.

This 170-acre park adjoining Lower Twin Lake is one of the best nature walks there is.

-The county fairs. I worked at the Steele County Fair and once again was amazed at the attendance there: 276,697.

Sweat bees

I have received a number of calls and e-mails about sweat bees, also known as hoverflies, syrphid flies and flower flies.

These beneficial hoverflies wear fear-invoking disguises.

Their yellow and black stripes mimic those of a bee or a wasp, but they cannot sting.

They can pretend to sting by pressing their stingerless rear ends down when threatened.

The larva of the hoverfly is a good thing to have around.

Often called a “rat-tailed maggot,” it looks like your average maggot, except that it is a bright green or yellow in color.

These maggots feed on destructive aphids.

The adult hoverflies feed on flower nectar and aphid honeydew.


“Look at everything as though you were seeing it for the first or last time.” &045; Betty Smith

“He who is not grateful for the things he has, would not be happy with what he wishes he had.” &045; Mary Jess


(Allen Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. His e-mail address is