Watching a flock of gulls bobbing on the waves off the coast of Agonda Beach in Goa, I guessed they were either black-headed gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) or brown-headed gulls (Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus). These two species are the most frequently encountered gulls on India’s coasts and are often seen near inland waterbodies as well. “Brown-headed and black-headed gulls often occur together in the same location. So you need a trained eye to tell them apart,” says wildlife biologist Dr R Suresh Kumar.
The absence of any fishing boats around us at the time explained the calm demeanour of the gulls that morning. However, they have a reputation for losing all dignity when the opportunity for a meal presents itself. And since their skulls have mobile joints, which allow them to unhinge their jaws, they will virtually swallow anything that will fit down their gullet.
Remarkably intelligent, these birds have quite a few tricks up their sleeves to secure a meal. For example, they are known to stamp the ground to simulate the sound of rainfall to trick earthworms into coming to the surface. They may also drop molluscs on rocks from a height to break open their shells or follow ploughs in agricultural fields to find grubs. Marine biologist Abhishek Jamalabad, who has observed these birds frequently, writes on the online blog JLRExplore.com, that although gulls are considered intelligent birds by science, whenever he has seen them with other animals around, they clown around a lot, “sometimes making utter fools of themselves.”
Wildlife photographers Neel Sureja, Saurabh Sawant, Shreeram MV and Mayank Soni, whose images are displayed in this series, agree that gulls can be funny and highly entertaining to watch, especially when they are on the lookout for food.
Most gulls are migratory, moving to warmer climes during the winter. Besides black-headed and brown-headed gulls, several other species are seen in India. These include the slender-billed gull (Chroicocephalus genei), Pallas’s gull (Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus), sooty gull (Ichthyaetus hemprichii), mew gull (Larus canus kamtschatschensis), Caspian gull (Larus cachinnans), steppe gull (Larus fuscus barabensis) and Heuglin’s gull (Larus fuscus heuglini). “We see gulls primarily during the winter in our country. Different populations of these birds fly south from beyond the Himalayas, where they breed in high-altitude lakes,” says Dr Kumar.