April 2017

Vol. 45, No. 2

The Famous Herring Gull of Brenton Reef

John J. Galluzzo

George H. Mackay

Lighthouses have long been places to observe, study, and theorize about birds. Before satellite tagging, before leg banding, simply finding a dead bird in an unexpected place could equal scientific discovery. Unfortunately, thousands of birds struck lighthouse towers every year in the late 1800s. Fortunately, as they gave up their lives, they did so for the furtherance of ornithology, particularly for studies of migration and geographic distribution.

Lightships, too, resting offshore near dangerous underwater obstructions such as rocks and reefs, played their role in the study of birds. One lightship—the Brenton Reef Lightship of Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island—and one particular Herring Gull at that lightship were written up in the premier ornithological journal of the United States, The Auk, in 1892 (Mackay 1892).

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