Gulls on parade: Why the skies over Niagara Falls are filled with birds

Gulls on parade: Why the skies over Niagara Falls are filled with birds

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World Migratory Bird Day is Saturday.

By the looks of it, flocks of birds arrived at Niagara Falls a few days ahead of time to take in the sights – and ample fish.

Gulls, some of which may be year-round residents, were observed in numbers too big to count by sight in the Niagara Gorge and around Niagara Falls State Park this week.

It's one of Western New York's most popular spots to see some of the 19 or so gull species known to frequent the Niagara River. And that's also one of the primary reasons the river was designated an internationally significant Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society.

"Gulls are very important to this area, and this area is very important to gulls," said Jay Burney, chairman of Friends of Times Beach Nature Preserve.

It might be overstating matters to call the Niagara River an important rookery for gulls. However, experts noted there are a few gull colonies – including one on Buffalo's Outer Harbor – for the common ring-billed gull species.

"Gulls roost, flock and feed on the Niagara, but I do not believe there is a nesting colony or rookery in the Niagara Gorge," said David F. Suggs, president of the Buffalo Ornithological Society. "There is, or was, an exceptionally large colony of ring-billed and herring gulls that nested at Stony Point in the past, at the former Lackawanna steel plants."

Inland gulls are in the same family with ocean gulls and both the ring-billed and herring gulls here are also residents of ocean habitats.

"Ornithologists and birders travel from all over the world to study the abundance of common and rare gulls on the river," Suggs said.

Earlier this year, local birding organizations relaunched its "Birds on the Niagara" winter celebration along the Niagara River corridor, which highlighted gulls at nine observation sites between Tifft Nature Preserve at Buffalo's Outer Harbor to Fort Niagara in Youngstown. Niagara Falls State Park is one of those sites.

Overall, it's an important time of the year for birds.

"The really big deal now, and for the next few weeks, is the neotropical migration," Burney said.

World Migratory Bird Day is a global campaign sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme with numerous partners designed to raise conservation awareness for migratory birds and their habitat.

"This is an event that has Buffalo in the center in many ways with our Niagara River Important Bird Area and our many warbler sites during this time of the year," Burney said. "The skies are beginning to light up with neotropical warblers that can be seen at places like Forest Lawn and Times Beach and Tifft. The next few weeks will be very active in this area."

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