Recently I've been spending some time in Midtown (it's great, tell your out-of-town friends about it!), and as the area has revealed itself to me I've been left with a lot of questions. Why is there always a line at Stardust? Why is garbage always falling from the sky? Where are they taking our HOPE? And so on. I plan to investigate some of these Midtown Mysteries, and I'm starting with seagulls.
Look, I'm not shocked when I see a rat dragging a slice of pizza through the bowels of our transit system, that's just your average urban wildlife scene—but I am curious when I see a seagull near Times Square. And I'm not the only one:
A seagull sighting in Midtown—an area that is not at the coastline, not near a marina, nor in Montauk, where I have personally seen the most amount of seagulls in my lifetime—isn't super rare, but it's not something you see in abundance every day, either. The seagull population in the area is certainly not on par with the pigeon population, at the very least. And that makes sense, as it just doesn't seem seem like a great place for a sea bird. The first few times I saw one I was sure I was inside of a strange dream where everything seemed normal until this seafaring creature showed up at the subway entrance like my goddamn spirit guide trying to lure me starboard.
So what's their deal? Do these particular seagulls know there's water nearby? I asked Paul Sweet at the Ornithology Dept. of the American Museum of Natural History about the seagulls, and the first thing he told me is, "We don’t refer to them as seagulls." (Look how much we're learning already.) He was kind enough to school me further on what these sea pigeons (also not the accurate term) are doing in these parts.
There are several species of gull that are commonly found in Manhattan. Herring, Great Black-backed and Ring-billed are here over the winter but mostly move out to breeding areas in summer.
They are usually found around the waterfront and in the Central Park Reservoir but Ring-billed and Herring can also be seen scavenging in city streets. ln summer Herring and Black-backed move to coastal areas of NYC where they breed and are joined by Laughing Gulls which return from wintering grounds south of New York. In addition there are several other rarer species that visit NYC at different times of the year.
gull shown in the above video is a ring-billed gull, one that Sweet identified as being more common to city streets. But don't these birds want to be by the water? Sweet told us they're "probably commuting from the Hudson to the East River."
While you may double-take at a gull gliding over Broadway, Sweet says, "It doesn’t surprise me at all. Some species of gull are highly adaptable to anthropogenic environments and are very opportunistic feeders." This is also why you may see them at night, and at the very least we can all agree hearing a bird at night, akin to hearing a lone whistler at night, is one of the eeriest things this world can offer.