Gull-iver travels! Rare shorebird goes missing

Fly by! Birders flock to Coney to see unique gull
Photo by Olaf Soltau

This bird has flown the coop.

Birdwatchers have been searching for an extremely rare gull that vanished last Wednesday after it delighted crowds on the beach near the Coney Island Boardwalk earlier this month.

“People are looking all the way up and down the Atlantic seaboard for it,” said National Audubon Society’s Greg Butcher. “A lot of people enjoy rare birds and nothing is as rare as that bird right now.”

The shorebird, which we have lovingly named Sea-Lo, was first spotted near W. 12th Street on July 24 and positively identified five days later as a gray-hooded gull.

The type of bird is indigenous to Chile, Argentina and South Africa, and had only been seen in North America once before in recorded history.

For two weeks, birders flocked to the boardwalk to score a glimpse of the equatorial shorebird while sharing stories of adventures past.

And Sea-lo did not disappoint.

“It seemed to be getting along, and was even dominant over the local laughing gulls,” said ornithologist student Morgan Tingley, who has been furiously tweeting the bird’s whereabouts since it landed. “Every day it showed up it seemed to be coming from some place else.”

But now the gull is gone.

And birders are fanning out over Sheepshead Bay marina, Manhattan Beach and Plum Beach in order to spot it again — and learn more about it.

Although the bird’s species has been identified, much remains a mystery.

Ornithologists have no idea where it came from or how it got here, and they still don’t know what its gender is and whether it has found a mate.

But its origins are of critical importance for professional and amateur ornithologists alike

The gull would only be classified as a “wild bird” if it flew here on its own, not if it hitched a ride on a ship hailing from South America or Africa — a crucial distinction that could keep the shorebird from the record books.

But none of those questions can get answered as long as the bird is missing.

Butcher says it is 50-50 that the bird will return to Coney Island this summer to snack on our shellfish.

“There are cases where a rare bird vanishes for a week or two and then reappears — but it is just as likely we’ll never hear from this bird again, disappearing into nothingness.”

Missing! Last week, this rare gray-hooded gull was all over Coney Island Beach. Now, to the dismay of birders, it is gone.
Photo by Olaf Soltau