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April 29, 2000

If you wanted to see a Swallow-tailed gull, where would you go?

The Swallow-tailed gull is endemic to the Galapagos Islands but a few breeding pairs have also been found on Isla Malpelo, off Columbia. This large, red-footed gull has a crimson eye-ring, a vivid feature in its beautiful black, gray and white plumage. It is also unique in that it is one of the few gulls that feeds at sea during the night, leaving its colony at dusk to search for small squid and fish.

The Swallow-tailed gull is colonial and nests on most of the smaller islands of the Galapagos archipelago, as well as on the cliffs of the larger ones.

Feeding at night may be an adaptation for avoiding frigate birds which circle overhead in daylight hours waiting to rob seabirds that have just caught a fish or are carrying prey in their bills or crops. Such birds, often after long and valiant struggles, are often forced to drop or regurgitate their prey which the frigate birds then retrieve, often, spectacularly, in mid air.

Listen to Roger Payne's Voice from the Sea piece entitled:
Stars and the Swallowed-Tailed Gull.

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