Ice formations having an effect on gulls in area

STEUBENVILLE – Gulls calling out to each other tend to make one think of summer vacations along Lake Erie or the ocean, but not the harsh winter the area has experienced.

Jamey Emmert, Ohio Division of Wildlife spokesperson, said it is not unusual for gulls to migrate south in search of food when Lake Erie freezes, especially near shore where the birds live most of the year. The gulls have been residing near the Ohio River in the area and have been seen in large numbers hanging out in parking lots of stores.

Emmert said the gulls are not the same as ones living near the ocean.

She said the birds like warm water discharges into the river. The gulls have been seen floating in the river near the discharge of the Steubenville sewer treatment plant. Emmert said the warm water tends to attract fish, the main food staple of the gulls’ diet.

“They are opportunists. They usually eat fish but won’t turn their beak down to other food,” Emmert said.

The division of wildlife discourages feeding the birds, especially bread. Emmert said bread has no nutritional value to gulls, other than filling their bellies with empty calories. She said the gulls are better left to fend for themselves.

The Great Lakes are approaching records levels of ice formation. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported 92.2 percent of the Great Lakes are iced over and still freezing. The record for ice formation was in February 1979 when the ice measured 94.7 percent of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes have only had 40 percent or less ice formation during the past several winters due to warmer conditions.

Emmert said she knows of no research indicating more gulls are heading south this winter compared to other winters. She said bird experts also haven’t said this winter’s migration is higher than normal.

Gulls also tend to head toward inland lakes in the northern part of the state, where they may spend the warmer months.

“I have not heard of a major influx this winter,” she said.

The gulls will head back north once the water on Lake Erie and inland lakes thaws, Emmert said.

One bird that has come farther south this winter is the snowy owl.

The snowy owl nests in the Arctic tundra and primarily eats lemmings or other small rodents.

There has been a population explosion of snowy owls, Emmert said.

There is normally a couple snowy owls that make it to Cuyahago County, but Emmert said there have been 20 sightings this winter in that county alone, a testament to this winter’s harsh weather. She said the snowy owls have gone even further south, including one sighting in Florida, in search of food.