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The state bird of Utah is the California gull, whose scientific name is Larus californicus. It is a migratory gull of average size, up to 21 inches (54 cm) long with a wingspan of 51 inches (130 cm). This bird is known to breed and nest in parts of Utah, close to Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake, but gets its name from its habit of spending the winter season in California and Oregon.
The California gull was deemed the state bird of Utah on 14 February 1955. This designation was made in remembrance of a pioneer legend, which states that a flock of gulls saved Mormon settlers' crops by eating an overabundance of crickets in 1848. This "Miracle of the Gulls" is commemorated by a monument unveiled in Salt Lake City in 1913 that features two gull sculptures.
Larus californicus has a white body that sometimes appears pearly blue. Its upper wings and back are gray, and its bill is yellow and ringed by black at the tip. Its legs are yellowish green. The state bird of Utah eats fish, eggs, insects, earthworms, fruit, and scavenged materials such as human garbage. It is capable of aeronautic feats, such as seeming to hover in midair by making precise use of wind currents.
The state bird of Utah is unique in that no other U.S. state has chosen a gull for its symbol. The most commonly chosen state bird is the cardinal, designated by seven states: West Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, and Virginia. Other popular state birds are the western meadowlark, chosen by six U.S. states, and the mockingbird, designated by five states.
In addition to the state bird of Utah, a significant symbol for this U.S. state is the honey bee. Apis mellifera was chosen as the state insect in 1983. Among the symbols on the state seal of Utah is a beehive representing the principle of industry, which was said to be demonstrated by early settlers who had few resources for survival. Utah's unofficial nickname is the "Beehive State." The honeybee is also included among the official symbols of 12 other U.S. states.
Aside from the California gull, two other Utah state symbols are related to its Mormon pioneer history. The state fish is the cutthroat trout, Salmo clarki, which features the Bonneville cutthroat as a subspecies that played a role as a food source for early Mormons in the area. The bulb of the sego lily, now the Utah state flower, is also said to have been an important nutrition source for the first Mormon settlers during a hard winter.
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