There was a good story in this morning's StarTribune about the Ivory Gulls in Duluth. It's strange to write about that rarity in the plural. But as several of us stood in Canal Park Wednesday morning, watching what we thought to be the lone gull an email arrived via phone announcing its death. A reply to the MOU email network promptly corrected that. A second gull indeed had been found, dead, about two miles from the canal site, beneath the Blatnik bridge connecting Duluth and Superior. It was in death a Wisconsin bird, and had been an excellent sighting for that state for at least a while. It was mangled, perhaps killed by the Gyrfalcon spending the winter around the port grain elevators. Someone posted that an examination of gull facial patterns captured in photos at Canal Park, revealed differences which, if true, could mean that both birds had been seen there. One Ivory Gull is rare and unusual. No one knows what to make of two.
The Duluth gull continued to be seen Thursday (today) morning. Observers have been bringing it fresh fish. One woman said she had delivered fresh Norwegian salmon. The gull was said to like salmon. It's hard to say how long the bird might be there. Weather isn't necessarily a problem; the species lives on the edge of Arctic ice. I watched it fly to a chunk of ice in the canal for a drink and a bath. It seems comfortable. It is not shy. It frequently walked within 10-12 feet of observers.
I drove to Duluth five days after it was found, a long time to wait before chasing for a look, but I had seen the species in Minnesota in the 1980s, from a bridge in St. Paul crossing the Mississippi River. That was not the best view. Ten feet from the camera is better. It was worth the drive. The bird has been reported in Minnesota about a dozen times.
People at the canal said hundreds of observers had seen the bird since it was found and announced. People came from other states, as would be expected for such an unusual occurance. One man flew in from Houston. He probably did not come the longest distance.
The gull shows the black markings of a juvenile, a bird hatched this past spring. In adult plumage, something it will achieve by spring, it is pure white but for its legs and feet. I would not wait five days to go see that one.
The Ivory Gull is small, 17 lnches long, the size of a crow. Behind it is a Herring Gull, 25 inches long.