The miracle of the gulls

Put this one in the can’t-believe-we-didn’t-already-know-this category. In a conversation the other day about birds with the word California in their names, it came up again that the California Gull is the official state bird of Utah. And that prompted us once again to wonder why a state would adopt a bird with another state’s name in it. We had always assumed there was a reasonable explanation, and it turns out, there is. Actually, it’s a really cool story (photo by Dick Daniels).

Apparently, the reason dates back to the spring of 1848, the year after the first Mormon pioneers settled in the Salt Lake Valley. That first spring they planted their first crops and everything was going well until huge swarms of crickets descended on their fields, consuming everything in their path.

It was then, according to Mormon folklore, that great flocks of California Gulls appeared and began to eat the crickets. Orson F. Whitney recounted, “When it seemed that nothing could stay the devastation, great flocks of gulls appeared, filling the air with their white wings and plaintive cries, and settled down upon the half-ruined fields. All day long they gorged themselves, and when full, disgorged and feasted again, the white gulls upon the black crickets, list hosts of heaven and hell contending, until the pests were vanquished and the people were saved."

Apparently, the story of the gulls is such a part of the Mormon tautology that the bird was enshrined as the state bird in 1955. A monument to the “Miracle of the Gulls” was built in Salt Lake City’s Temple Square (photo below by Ellen Macdonald). The inscription reads: “Seagull Monument erected in grateful remembrance of the mercy of God to the Mormon Pioneers.”

Apparently, some historical accounts from the era don't agree with this account, and some experts quibble at the idea of gulls wiping out crickets in this dramatic fashion -- but the "Miracle of the Gulls" is nonetheless a bedrock part of the Mormon story. And it's a great bird story.




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