Science & Technology



Chicago birders rejoice as Arctic gull makes rare visit to local beaches: 'This is about as good as it gets'

Nara Schoenberg, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

CHICAGO — It was 8:15 on a Saturday morning when Woody Goss’ phone started buzzing.

Annoyed, he checked the screen to find that one of his birding groups was puzzling over a small white gull with distinctive black markings. The bird looked like a Ross’s gull — a very rare visitor from the high Arctic that last stopped for an extended visit at Chicago-area beaches in 1978.

But could it be?

Goss — a “gull person” among birders — had no doubt. He ran out of the house and drove from Lakeview to Rainbow Beach on the South Side “faster than I’ll admit to a reporter.”

And there it was, 2,000 miles from its icy home.

“This is about as good as it gets for me, not just as a birder, but in life,” said Goss, 34.


The bird that drew crowds of up to 200 people Saturday, and reappeared to the delight of onlookers at nearby Steelworkers Park on Tuesday and Wednesday, is indeed the long-awaited Ross’s gull, according to John Bates, curator of birds at Chicago’s Field Museum.

“It’s absolutely happening,” said Bates, who saw the bird foraging on the shoreline at Rainbow Beach on Saturday.

“Most of the time they’re only above the Arctic Circle, and occasionally they wander down into the lower 48, but they often don’t stay around very long. So the idea that this bird allowed itself to be seen by so many people was really fun,” Bates said.

Bigger than a crow, with a small black beak and a lovely wash of soft pink across its breast and head during breeding season, the Ross’s gull typically prefers places such as Siberia, northern Canada and the icy Arctic Ocean.


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