Black-Legged Kittiwake

Recently a bird rarely seen in central Ohio has appeared- always a good thing for local birders.  It is quite possible that it was brought here by the Polar Vortex weather that so recently froze the country, because the Atlantic Coast is the closest normal wintering grounds for it right now.

After reading reports of its sighting, I went to the location it had been seen at- Antrim Park in Columbus, a small place for a bird used to the ocean to be.

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The central feature of Antrim Park is a small lake- popular with fishermen because the Ohio Department of Natural Resources stock it yearly with Rainbow Trout.  This attracts birds who like fish as well.

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There weren’t many people in the park, though it is a popular destination in warmer weather.

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Robins and Starlings foraged for berries, which are still plentiful this early in the winter.

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Even birds need an occasional winter bath!

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A handful of Ring-Billed Gulls, central Ohio’s most common seagull, were also around.  They spend the night further north at Alum Creek Reservoir, then fly south during the day to feed.

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Out on the ice, gulls hung out…but look at the one with the black markings.

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If you think that one is different than the others, you’re right.

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The gull on the left is a Black-legged Kittiwake, and this bird is far from its usual haunts.  Its markings identify it as a first-year bird, so this is its first winter.  It likes to hang out with the Ring-Billed Gulls that are familiar to the area, so it is not a lonely bird, even if it is far away from where its brothers and sisters are.

I know you may be thinking- OK, it’s a seagull, it has a few more black smudges than other gulls, what’s the big deal?

Fair question.  Unlike the local gulls, this bird was born in the Arctic Circle of northern Canada.  It most likely grew up in a nest on a sea cliff looking out to sea; it may have even been born on a shipwreck out in the water.  This bird will typically spend its winter months far out to sea in the Atlantic Ocean, living off of the sea creatures that it finds near the surface, while it sleeps and rests bobbing on the waves in the water.  In the warm weather, it will return to the area where it was born, to mate and to hatch eggs of its own and to continue the great circle of life.

That to me is a rather thrilling life, land-bound as I am in central Ohio.  So to me, when I see this bird, I am seeing a creature that will have years of adventure ahead of it living on the high seas, on cliffsides, or maybe even on shipwrecks.  Maybe you have a little more respect for this guy or gal now?  🙂

I hope this young bird finds its way back to the great ocean soon.

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I wasn’t the only birder at the park to see this unique bird.  I think I can say for us all that the internet has been a wonderful tool to share rare bird sightings which has undoubtedly helped increase the life lists of many a birder (including me).  Keep an eye out and see what you can find!