North American Seagulls
This site contains information and facts about and on seagulls that live in, or visit North America. Here you will find information and facts on where these seagulls live, their nesting habits, diet, and migration patterns. While the information and facts on seagulls that I have posted is not all-inclusive, I have done my best to list as much pertinent information and facts that I could find. My hope is that my site will make your reseach on seagulls much easier. Click the following link for facts and information on how seagulls fly.
Seagulls are birds in the family Laridae. They are most closely related to the terns (family Sternidae) and only distantly related to auks, and skimmers, and more distantly to the waders. Most gulls however, belong to the large family named Larus. The word Larus is from the Greek word meaning “ravenous sea bird.” The term “Seagull” can be misleading because many species of gulls live, feed, and nest inland. Seagulls can be found around the oceans worldwide with the exception of some central Pacific islands, and some areas in Southeast Asia. I never saw a single seagull while I was living on Oahu. The gulls are relatively uniform in shape but do vary in size and coloration. Seagulls are the acrobats of the sky, making the seemingly impossible antics appear effortless. They can float motionless in midair by catching wind currents with perfect timing and precision while positioning their bodies at just the right angle.
The seagull is perhaps best known as being a scavenger. It is most often seen in large, noisy flocks congregating wherever food is available. They can almost always be found around fishing boats, picnic grounds, parking lots and garbage dumps. Many people consider the gull to be a nuisance, but they actually perform a very valuable service. They are garbage men (sanitation engineers for the politically correct) with wings. They scavenge up great numbers of dead animals and organic litter which could pose a health threat to humans.
Black-legged Kittiwake's (rissa tridactyla)
Adults are roughly 16 inches (40 cm) in length with a wingspan of 35-40 inches (90-100 cm). They have a white head and body. Their backs are grey, and their grey wings are tipped solid black. They have black legs and a yellow bill. The hind toe on their foot is only a tiny bump, giving the bird its scientific name Rissa tridactyla, meaning “three-toed” (instead of four on each foot). In the winter they acquire a dark grey smudge behind their eyes and develop a grey hind-neck collar. Their name is derived from its call which sounds like a shrill 'kittee-wa-aaake, kitte-wa-aaake'.
The black-legged kittiwake prefers to eat marine invertebrates, plankton, and fish. They like to feed in flocks and catch their food at the surface of the water. They also dive just below the surface of the water to catch their prey, making them one of the few gulls that dives and swims underwater.
This gull is a coastal bird found in the north Pacific, north Atlantic, Scandinavia, and Europe. They breed in large, noisy colonies on cliffs. A typical nest is lined with moss and seaweed and will contain up to two eggs. Breeding and nesting time frame is usually in July to August. Kittiwakes are born white and develop a distinctive black “W” band across the length of their wings as they become a juvenile. As an adult, the black “W” is replaced with a solid gray color and only the tips remain black. The black-legged kittiwake has a life expectancy of about 13 years.
Bonaparte's Gull (larus philadelphia)
The Bonaparte's Gull is named after Charles Lucien Bonaparte, a nephew of Napoleon, who was a leading ornithologist in the 1800s in America and Europe. This small gull has an adult body that is roughly 17 inches (45 cm) in length with a wingspan of 35-40 inches (90-100 cm). This gull has a dark gray to black head and bill, a white neck, gray body and wings, and bright orange-red legs and feet. It is one of the few gulls that prefers to nest in trees during mating season.
During the summer, the Bonaparte's gull can be found from the Great Lakes to as far north as Alaska. While inland during the summer, they feed chiefly on insects that they capture in the air, pick from croplands, or gather from the surface of lakes or ponds, Bonaparte's gulls migrate south to spend the winter on the Pacific coast where they feed on small fish, crustacea, snails and marine worms.
Bonaparte's Gulls reach maturity when they are two years old and prefer to nest in trees during mating season. Breeding and nesting time frame for Bonaparte's Gulls is usually in July to August. They nest singly or in loose colonies located on islands or lakeshores. The fir or spruce tree is the most common choice for nesting. and nests are built of small twigs, moss, lichen, grass, and generally any foliage that is easily available. Bonaparte's Gulls have a life expectancy of up to 18 years.
California Gull (larus californicus)
The California Gull adults are roughly 19-21 inches (47-54 cm) in length with a wingspan of up to 51 inches (130 cm). Their head is white with a yellow bill. The neck and under parts are also white. The gull's back and wings are dark gray. The legs and feet are a greenish-yellow color. Breeding and nesting time frame for California Gulls is usually in May to July. The nest is typically a shallow depression on the ground lined with vegetation and feathers. The female gull normally lays 2 or 3 eggs. Both parents will take turns feeding the young birds. The California Gull is a “four-year gull,” in that it takes four years for them to reach adult plumage.
The California Gull can be found on the pacific coastline from northern Mexico to British Columbia. They range far inland from New Mexico to Manitoba. They prefer to eat insects, fish and eggs, however, they are well known for scavenging at garbage dumps or docks. They have also been seen to follow farmers plowing in fields, eating the insects stirred up by this activity.
The California Gull has an interesting foraging strategy for catching alkali flies along the shores of salty lakes in the Great Basin in the western United States. It starts at one end of a huge swarm of flies sitting on the beach and runs through the flies with its head down and bill open, snapping up flies. California Gulls have a life expectancy of up to 24 years.
Common black headed gulls (larus ridibundus)
The Black Headed Gull adults are roughly 13-17 inches (33-44cm) in length with a 35-41 inch (89-105 cm) wingspan. The summer adult has a chocolate-brown head (not black, despite the name), the body and wings are pale grey, with black tips on the primary wing feathers. The bill is red with a black tip, and the legs are also red. The “black” hood is lost in winter, leaving just a dark vertical streak or spot behind the eye. Setting the Common Black Headed Gull apart from the other “hooded” gulls is the fact that they do no actually have a black head during breeding season.
The Common Black Headed Gull is relatively new to North America, being first seen in Canada in the early 1900's. It is a small gull which breeds in much of Europe and Asia, and also in coastal eastern Canada. Most of the population is migratory, preferring to winter further south, but some birds in the milder westernmost areas of Europe do not migrate. Some birds that reside in eastern Canada will also spend the winter in the northeastern United States.
The Common Black Headed Gull reaches maturity when they are two years old, which is typical of small gulls. Breeding and nesting time frame for Common Black Headed Gulls is usually in April to May.Their nest is typically a shallow depression on the ground lined with vegetation and feathers. The female gull normally lays 2 or 3 eggs. Both parents will take turns feeding the young birds. They prefer to eat insects, small fish, small berries and earthworms. They have been known to follow fishing boats, plunge-diving for smaller fish. They also like to follow plows tilling in fields eating the earthworms and other invertebrates stirred up by this activity. Common Black Headed Gulls have a life expectancy of up to 18 years.
Franklin's Gull (larus pipixcan)
The Franklin's Gull (named after the Artic explorer Sir John Franklin) is a small gull that is roughly 13-14 inches (33-36cm) in length with a 35-41 inch (89-105 cm) wingspan. Their head is black with a distinctive small white ring around the eyes. The bill is orange with a black spot near the tip. Their gray wings have a white border and black tips. Their legs and feet are red-orange.
Breeding and nesting time frame for Franklin's Gulls is usually in May to June. Their nests are floating masses of rushes, cattails, and grasses built in shallow water and usually attached to emergent vegetation. Franklin's Gulls form monogamous pair bonds for the duration of the nesting season. Both members of the pair help build the nest and incubate the 3 eggs for about 23-26 days. Both parents feed the young and brood them, taking turns so that one parent is present at all times. The Franklin's Gull nests primarily along lakes and marshes in the northern prairie regions of central Canada and north-central United States.
Franklin's Gulls have in recent decades expanded their breeding range southward to include some of the lakes in the Plains States and Rocky Mountain regions. The Franklin's Gull is unique among other gulls in that it has two complete molts each year rather than one. They prefer to eat insects, spiders, small fish, and small berries. They also like to follow plows tilling in fields eating the earthworms and other invertebrates stirred up by farmers.
Glaucus Gull (larus hyperborous)
The Glaucous Gull is a large gull whose body will reach roughly 27 inches (68 cm) as an adult. Their wingspan can reach 59-72 inches (149-182 cm) in length. The Glaucous Gulls are very pale in all plumages, with a white head and underparts. The bill is yellow with a red spot near the tip of the lower mandible. The back and wings are light gray with no black in the wings or tail. A juvenile Glaucous gull will have light gray and brown coloration. The Glaucous Gull is a “four-year gull,” in that it takes four years to reach adult plumage.
Breeding and nesting time frame for Glaucous Gulls is usually in May to June. A Glaucous Gull nest is a shallow depression made in a mound of grass, sedge, moss, or twigs. They have little to no lining in them. One to three eggs are laid and both parents share the nest sitting duties for the incubation period. Both parents take turns feeding the chicks for up to 2 months. The young leave the nest on foot a few days after hatching. but they stay close to the nest and the protection of their parents until their first flight which happens around 7 weeks after birth.
The Glaucous Gull breeds in Alaska and northern Canada. They migrate south to the upper portions of the United States for the winter. The Glaucous is one of the most predatory gulls, capturing and eating auks, plovers, ptarmigans, small ducks and birds as well as fish. It is also known to be scavenger, feeding on garbage and dead animals. The Glaucous Gull has been seen to walk into bird colonies to steal eggs and chicks that have been left unprotected.
Glaucous-Winged Gull (larus glaucescens)
The Glaucous-Winged Gull is named for its gray wings; the greek word “glaukos” means blue-gray. It is a large bird (although smaller than a Glaucous Gull) whose body will reach roughly 20-23 inches (50-59 cm) as an adult. Their wingspan can reach 47-56 inches (120-143 cm) in length. They have a white head and underparts, but unlike the Glaucous Gull however, the Glaucous-Winged Gull has medium gray wings. Like the Glaucous Gull, the Glaucous-Winged Gull also has a yellow bill with a red spot near the tip of the lower mandible. The Glaucous-Winged Gull is a “four-year gull,” in that it takes four years to reach adult plumage.
Breeding and nesting time frame for Glaucous Winged Gulls is usually in May to June. Nesting is usually in colonies where the chicks are safest from predators, and birds first breed at four years of age. Nests are usually on the ground or in protected rocky formations. The nest is a shallow depression with a ring of vegetation and nearby debris. Both parents incubate the 2-3 eggs for about four weeks. Newborn chicks are covered in down and may leave the nest as soon as two days post-hatching, although they stay near the nest where the parents can protect them. Both parents feed the young, which first begin to fly at 5-7 weeks old, and then leave the colony about 2 weeks after they've learned to fly.
Glaucous-Winged Gulls are found all along the Pacific Northwest coastline. Glaucous Winged Gulls are omnivores (they will eat most anything), their diet includes fish and other marine creatures, small birds, eggs, small mammals, invertebrates, and in populated areas, refuse from dumps, trash cans, and parking lots. Glaucous-Winged Gulls migrate south from Alaska going as far south as the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.
Great Black-backed Gull (larus marinus)
Considered to be the largest gull in the world, the Great Black-Backed Gull adult body will reach roughly 28-31 inches (71-79cm) in length. Their wingspan can reach 57-63 inches (146-160 cm) in length. They have a white head, neck and under parts with pale pink legs. Their back and wings are a very dark gray to sooty black color. This gull also has a yellow bill with a red spot near the tip of the lower mandible.
Breeding and nesting time frame for Great Black-Backed Gulls is usually in May to June. They prefer to build their nests on rocky cliffs or other areas where the chicks will be safe. The nest itself consists of an untidy mass of grass, seaweed, small plants and debris. The newly hatched gulls do not fly away from the nest area until they are about 50 days old. It is not uncommon for the young gulls to return to the nesting territory to rest and be fed for another 50 days. The Great Black-Backed Gull is a “four-year gull,” in that it takes four years to reach adult plumage.
The Great Black-Back Gull preys on almost anything smaller than itself, including other gulls, small ducks, small birds, fish and shellfish, as well as the eggs and young of other gulls. Unlike most Larus gulls, Great Black-Backed Gulls are mostly carnivorous and frequently hunt and kill any prey smaller than themselves, behaving more like hawks and eagles than a typical larid gull. They frequently rob other seabirds of their catch rather than finding food on their own. Great Black-Backed Gulls are often found in the company of herring gulls and the two species will even nest together in mixed colonies.
Heermann's Gull (larus heermanni)
The Heermann's Gull derived its name in 1852 by John Cassin for Dr. Adolphus Heermann, a mid-19th century field collector of birds and their eggs, especially in California. Heermann's Gulls are a medium sized gull. The adults have a body length that is roughly 18-21 inches (46-53 cm) in length, and a wingspan of 41-45 inches (104-115 cm). They have gray bodies, blackish-gray wings and tail feathers and a red bill with a black tip. Its head is gray when it is not breeding and white when it has its breeding plumage.
This bird has a reverse migration in that it nests in western Mexico and then migrates north along Pacific coast in summer and fall. It will arrive as far north as southern British Columbia coast in late July or early August. The Heermann's Gull migration is timed with the movement of Brown Pelicans. When a pelican comes to the surface with a fish, the gull is often waiting to try to take the fish out of its pouch. Even though this gull is not large in physical size, it is very aggressive and harasses other birds to make them drop their catch. It also forages in flight over the sea, dipping to the surface or diving into the water for fish.
The Heermann's Gull diet consists of small fish, crustaceans and mollusks. It has been seen to sometimes eat the eggs of other birds, refuse or carrion. Breeding and nesting time frame for Heermann's Gulls is usually in June to July. The Heermann's Gull nest in the spring in colonies on islands off the west coast of Mexico. Their nest is typically on level ground instead of rocky crags. The nest may be in just a shallow scrape in the soil or between boulders where it is hidden. They make the nest of sticks and grasses, and sometimes line them with feathers. The young are fed by both parents.
Herring Gull (larus argentatus)
The Herring Gull is a large gull that can easily be confused with almost any of the other large gull species, especially the Thayer's gull. The adults have a body length that is roughly 22-26 inches (56-66 cm) in length, and a wingspan of 54-57 inches (137-146 cm).The adult wears the typical gull-like plumage of slate-gray back and wings. The wingtips are black spotted with white. Their body and head is white and their eyes are yellow. The beak is yellow with a red spot on the lower mandible, as in most large gulls.
Herring Gulls feed mostly on natural prey such as marine fish, especially the herring (which is one of their favorite foods - hence the name “herring” gull) and invertebrates, although the diet varies considerably with season and location. In addition to marine life, Herring Gulls also eat other birds, eggs, garbage, and carrion.
Breeding and nesting time frame for Herring Gulls is usually in May to June. Herring gulls breed from Alaska east across northern Canada to the Maritime Provinces, south to British Columbia, north-central Canada, and Great Lakes, and along Atlantic Coast to North Carolina. They winter in all but the northernmost breeding areas, from southern Alaska all the down to Baja California. They are also in found in Europe. Relatively long-lived birds, Herring Gulls don't typically breed until they are four or five years old. Herring Gulls are very social birds and prefer to nest in colonies. Both members of a pair help build the nest, which is typically located on the ground in a sheltered location to protect it from the wind. The nest is a shallow scrape lined with grass, feathers, and other debris. The parents continue to feed the young by regurgitation for approximately another month after they begin to fly. The young first fly at the age of about six weeks.
Iceland Gull (larus glaucoidus)
The Iceland Gull is a large gull which breeds in the arctic regions of Canada and Greenland, but oddly enough, not in Iceland, where it is only seen in the winter. It is migratory gull, wintering from both sides of the North Atlantic as far south as the British Isles and northernmost states of the eastern United States. Its coloring is very pale in all plumages, with no black in the wings or tail. Adults are pale grey above, with a yellowish-green bill with a red spot near tip of lower mandible. The adults have a body length that is roughly 20-24 inches (50-60 cm) in length, and a wingspan of 45-54 inches (115-137 cm).
The Iceland Gull, Larus glaucoides, (top left picture) breeds in Greenland during May to June, remaining in Greenland for the summer months and travels to Europe and the Northeastern United States for the winter. The Iceland Gull has no darkness in its wingtips, or only very little, compared to Kumlien's version which has more darkness in the wingtips. During the winter, the Iceland Gull concentrates at the Arctic sea ice openings which are created by ocean currents and warm upwellings (places the often nutrient-rich waters from the ocean depths rise to the surface attracting many fish) where they forage mostly at the water's surface, where the ice is slushy.
The Iceland Gull is divided into two subspecies. The western form known as "Kumlien's Gull," Larus glaucoides kumlieni, (bottom left picture) breeds in Canada and shows variable amounts of dark coloration in the wingtips. The Kumlien's Gull is very easily (and often) confused with the Thayer's gull. The Kumlien's Gull breeds in the eastern Canadian Arctic during the summer, and then migrates to the Atlantic coastline of Canada, with some straying down the Atlantic Coast of the United States.
Ivory Gull (pagophila eburnea)
The Ivory Gull is a medium sized gull that is roughly 16-17 inches (40-43cm) in length with a 43-47 inch (108-120 cm) wingspan. The adult feathers are completely white. They have black eyes, black legs and feet. The bill is pale gray and tipped with yellow. Ivory Gulls are arctic birds that range across Northern Canada, Greenland, and Arctic Western Europe. In the summer, they are usually found above the Arctic Circle. The birds nest on granite, limestone, or gravel, and steep cliffs of mountains protruding from glaciers. The Ivory Gull is a “two-year gull,” in that it takes two years to reach adult plumage.
Nesting colonies are usually close to their source of food, the marine waters that open early in May through June. In other seasons, Ivory Gulls are found along the edge of the Artic pack ice. They often arrive at their breeding grounds before the snow melts, but they don't build a nest until the ground is sufficiently thawed. Ivory Gulls will nest on either flat ground or cliffs. The nesting area is excavated with their feet, the nest bowl, not more than a slight depression, is then lined with feathers, grasses, moss, and seaweed. The young Ivory Gulls grow rapidly and fly in about a month, making the entire breeding season as short as 60 days. The juvenile Ivory Gulls then follow the adults on migration, where they continue to beg for food. Predators and bad weather are the two main factors that tend to limit Ivory Gull populations. Both polar bears and arctic foxes like to feed on the gull's eggs and chicks. These predators have been known to kill all the young in a colony. Artic storms can also significantly decrease the number of young which are successfully raised.
Like all gulls, Ivory Gulls are scavengers, feeding on the carcasses of dead fish and marine mammals. The gull's foraging methods include skimming the water, stealing from other birds, scavenging, and plunge-diving. The gull also watches for whales to churn the ocean as they feed, allowing the seabird to pluck animal plankton from the water. At the edge of the ice flows, especially in low light conditions, the Ivory Gull will catch lanternfish and squid. Small fish, krill, and copepods are also part of the gull's diet. In the summer months, they seek out lemmings and midge larvae.
Laughing Gull (larus atricilla)
Laughing Gulls, named for the sound of their call, are a medium sized gull with a black head in breeding plumage. The adults have a body length that is roughly 15-18 inches (39-46 cm) in length, and a wingspan of 36-47 inches (92-120 cm). During the summer months, the adult's back and wings are dark gray, and the trailing edge of their wings is white, with a black wing-tip. The bill is a dark red color. During the winter months, the black “hood” is replaced with a mottled gray hood. The Laughing Gull is a “three-year gull,” in that it takes three years to reach adult plumage. They live mainly on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States, ranging from Maine down through Florida and Texas and Mexico. They spend the winter in the Caribbean.
Laughing Gulls breed in coastal marshes and ponds in large colonies. They tend to make large nests, made largely from grasses and seaweed, and they are always constructed on the ground. They prefer to build their nests on sandy shorelines. The females lay their eggs during the months of May and June. The young gulls leave the nest around 35-40 days after hatching. After leaving the nest, the juveniles stay together in large groups, seldom associating with the adult gulls.
Like most gulls, the Laughing Gull has a highly varied diet. It is a carnivore as well as a scavenger. They will eat insects, fish, shellfish, and crabs. They can get their food from the water while they are airborne by either skimming the surface or diving. They often steal food from pelicans, terns, and other seagulls after they have made a catch. The Laughing Gull also gets food from man-made sources such as garbage, refuse from fishing boats, and anything tossed to them by humans.
Lesser Black-backed Gull (larus fuscus)
The Lesser Black-Backed Gull is a medium to large gull that is roughly 20-25 inches (52-64cm) in length with a 53-59 inch (135-150 cm) wingspan. They have a white head, neck and under parts with yellow legs and feet. Their back and wings are a very dark gray to sooty black color. This gull also has a yellow bill with a red spot near the tip of the lower mandible. The Lesser Black-Backed Gull is a “three-year gull,” in that it takes three years to reach adult plumage.
The Lesser Black-Backed Gull is divided into several different subspecies that differ in the darkness of the back. Nearly all individuals that reach North America are of the graellsii subspecies that breeds in Iceland. They are being seen with increasing frequency in North America in recent decades and this may correspond with the large increase in numbers in Iceland. The graellsii subspecies is the palest of the subspecies, with its back being much lighter than the black wingtips. The Lesser Black-Backed Gull is normally a European gull, but as its numbers continue to increase in North America, there is a possibility that the Lesser Black-Backed Gull may one day begin breeding in North America.
The Lesser Black-Backed Gull's nest is simply a depression in a large mound of seaweed, grasses, other vegetation, and any debris they can find. The nest is usually lined with finer material, such as feathers and moss. These gulls normally nest in colonies where the chicks are better protected.
Little Gull (larus minutus)
The smallest gull on the planet, the Little Gull is a very small sized gull that is roughly 11-12 inches (29-30 cm) in length with a 24 inch (61 cm) wingspan. During the summer months, the adult's back and wings are pale gray, and the trailing edge of their wings is white, with a black wing-tip. The underside of the wings is a blackish color. The head is black; or very dark gray. The bill is a dark red-black color. Their legs are red. During the winter months, the black “hood” is replaced with white feathers that have a dark spot behind the eyes. The head will often have a partial dark gray cap.
The Little Gull is quite common across Eurasia. A few pairs have been seen nesting in North America since the 1960s, and the species is now becoming more common on the East Coast and the Great Lakes. This gull is most commonly seen in North America during the winter months. In North America, these gulls usually nest in small colonies or in isolated pairs. Their nests are built on the ground and normally near water. The nest is built of grasses, weeds and leaves, and has a shallow depression in the center. Both parents take of the young chicks, which leave the nest shortly after hatching. The young gulls stay close to parents who feed them until they are old enough to fly. The gulls often fly within three to four weeks after hatching.
The Little Gull feeds on small insects and insect larvae, crustaceans, mollusks, and small fish. The gulls will pick up food off the water surface, and will also catch insects while in flight.
Mew Gull (larus canus)
The Mew Gull (named for the cat-like call it often gives) is a small to medium sized gull that is roughly 16-18 inches (41-46 cm) in length with a 42-45 inch (107-114 cm) wingspan. Their head, neck, and under parts are white. The bill is yellow with no markings, and there is a small red ring going around the eyes. The legs and feet are also yellow. The back and tops of the wings are medium gray. The wingtips are black with white spots. During the winter when the Mew Gull is in non-breeding plumage, its head is smudged with brown, the red eye-ring is absent, and the bill is partially dark. The Mew Gull is a “three-year gull,” in that it takes three years to reach adult plumage.
The Mew Gull breeds from Alaska south to central British Columbia and as far east as northern Saskatchewan. They spend the winter on the Pacific coast of the United States sometimes going as far south as the Baja peninsula of Mexico. Mew Gulls build nests in conifers (they are the only white-headed gull that will build a nest in a tree), on islands in marshes (in vegetation), and on the ground. The parents will aggressively defend their nests, often diving and swooping upon intruders. When the gulls build their nest on the ground, it is a simple shallow scrape lined with grass or seaweed. When they build their nest in a tree it is usually a shallow cup of twigs lined with grasses. The young hatchlings from nests built on the ground may leave the nest after a few days, but will stay close by so their parents can feed them. The young hatchlings in nests built in trees will stay in the nest for a longer period. Both parents help feed the young, which learn to fly at about 4 weeks of age.
Mew Gulls are primarily scavengers, preferring to steal their food rather than catch it themselves. They are also known to hunt insects, earthworms, mollusks, crustaceans. and occasionally young birds and mice. To break open hard shells, they drop their catch, such as sea urchins and mollusks, onto the beach to break them open. Their diet also includes grain, garbage, and fish.
Red-legged Kittiwake (rissa brevirostris)
Red-legged Kittiwakes are a small to medium sized gull. The adults have a body length that is roughly 16-18 inches (41-46 cm) in length, and a wingspan of 42-45 inches (107-114 cm). Their head, neck, and under parts are white. Their eyes are slightly larger than normal. The bill, which is shorter and more curved than an average gull's, is yellow with no markings. The tail is white, the back and wings are gray; the wingtips are black. The legs and feet are red. During the non-breeding season, they have a black “smudge” on each side of the head, just behind the eyes.
The Red-legged Kittiwake breeds on islands in the Bering Sea. They spend their winters at sea in the Northern Pacific Ocean, avoiding the ferocious storms that go across the Bering Sea. Their nests tend to be shallow cups made of mud, grass, seaweed and kelp. Both parents build the nest and both take their turns incubating the egg(s). The nest will contain one egg, or sometimes two. Both parents help feed the young, which learn to fly at about 5 weeks of age.
Red-legged Kittiwakes are one of the few species of gulls that are not scavengers. Red-legged Kittiwakes feed mainly on small fish such as lampfish and Pollock, squid, and marine zooplankton. During the summer they have been found foraging over deep water, ranging from 200 to 2,000 meters deep. They forage along the surface of the water, by either plunging or dipping into the water. Red-legged Kittiwakes often forage in flocks over schools of fish. They can feed during the day and night, but it has been suggested that Red-legged Kittiwake, with its larger eyes, is better adapted for catching prey that migrate to the ocean surface during the nighttime.
Ring-billed Gull (larus delawarensis)
The Ring-billed Gull is a medium sized gull that is roughly 17-21 inches (43-54 cm) in length with a 41-46 inch (105-117 cm) wingspan. Their head, neck, and under parts are white. The bill is yellow with a black ring near the tip (hence the name of the gull). The back and wings are gray; the wingtips are black with white spots. The legs and feet are yellow. The Ring-billed Gull is a “three-year gull,” in that it takes three years to reach adult plumage.
The Ring-billed Gull breeds across the northern regions of the North American continent. It is also breeds in the Great Lakes region, the Canadian Maritimes, and northern New England. In the winter it migrates as far south as the Baja Peninsula of Mexico and all the way across to the Gulf of Mexico and Cuba. The nest is a shallow depression made on the ground that is lined with grass, reeds, and rushes. The nest will typically contain two to four eggs. Both parents will incubate the eggs and both will feed the hatchlings. The young chicks learn how to fly in about four weeks.
Ring-billed Gulls are omnivores (they will eat most anything); their diet includes fish and other marine creatures, small birds, eggs, rodents, earthworms, and in populated areas, refuse from dumps, trash cans, and restaurant parking lots. These birds forage in flight or pick up objects while swimming, walking or wading. They will steal food from other birds and gulls and frequently scavenge.
Ross's Gull (rhodostethia rosea)
The Ross's Gull (named after the North Pole explorer James Clark Ross) is a small gull that is roughly 12-14 inches (30-36 cm) in length with a 35-41 inch (89-105 cm) wingspan. These small gulls are best distinguished by their wedge-shaped tails and pigeon-like flight. Their head, neck, and under parts are white to pale gray. The back and wings are gray; the trailing edge of the wing is white. They have red feet and short black bills. During the summer breeding season, they gain a distinctive black neck ring, and their breast and belly takes on a pale pink tinge. Immature gulls have a black ear spot and black tipped wings and tail. The Ross's Gull is a “two-year gull,” in that it takes only two years to reach adult plumage.
Ross's Gulls breeding locations are rarely found in North America. A few sites have been found in Northern Canada and Northern Alaska. Most Ross's Gulls breed in Siberia. The nests are a shallow scrape that tend to be unlined with any nesting materials. When the gulls are nesting in wetlands, the nest is a depression in a grassy mound or loose gravel, and lined with grasses, sedges, moss, or leaves. Nests will contain one to three eggs. Both parents will incubate the eggs and both will feed the hatchlings. The young chicks learn how to fly in about three weeks.
Ross's Gulls are another one of the few species of gulls that are not scavengers. During the winter months they feed on small fish, invertebrates, and marine zooplankton. In the summer months they feed upon insects, primarily beetles and flies. While the exact location and character of their wintering habitat is unknown, many Ross's Gulls have been seen to forage near pack ice in the winter.
Sabine's Gull (xema sabini)
The Sabine's Gull (named after the British scientist Sir Edward Sabine) is a small gull that is roughly 12-14 inches (30-36 cm) in length with a 35-41 inch (89-105 cm) wingspan. It has a slate-gray back, white underparts and tail, and black wingtips. The adult's bill is black and has a yellow tip. The middle of the wings is white, giving the bird a distinctive “M” pattern across its wings in flight. The legs and feet are black. In the summer months (breeding season), the adult has a dark gray hood, edged in black. The adult in non-breeding plumage has a partially gray and white head. The juvenile is brown across the back, neck, and head, with a white face.
Sabine's Gulls nest in the high Arctic regions of Siberia, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, in marshy tundra ponds close to the coast. These gulls usually nest in small colonies, although single nests have been sighted. The nest is a shallow scrape that lined with grass, sedge, or moss. The nest will contain from two to five eggs. Both parents will incubate the eggs and feed the hatchlings. The chicks leave the nest about 48 hours after hatching.
Outside of the breeding season, Sabine's Gulls spend most of their time at sea, out of sight of land. Although most of these gulls migrate along the coasts or at sea, some migrate directly north-south, directly across North America. When at sea, they concentrate over upwellings of cold, nutrient-rich water. Their main source of food is aquatic invertebrates. They also eat zooplankton, crustaceans, and small fish.
Thayer's Gull (larus theyeri)
The Thayer's Gull (named after John E. Thayer, a prominent ornithologist) is a medium to large gull that is roughly 20-24 inches (52-60 cm) in length with a 55 inch (140 cm) wingspan. Until 1972, it was considered a subspecies of the Herring Gull, but it is now classified as a full species. That classification is currently in doubt by many ornithologists because the Thayer's Gull is very similar to the Iceland Gull in appearance and genetics. The adult gull has solid a medium-gray color on its back and wings, with black on the outer edges of the wings. The undersides of the wings are pale white. The head is white in the breeding season, and has brownish blurred streaking in the non-breeding season. The bill is yellow with a red spot near the tip of the lower mandible, and the feet and legs are dark pink. The juvenile birds sport at least seven different plumages that are themselves variable. The Thayer's Gull is a “four-year gull,” in that it takes four years to reach adult plumage.
During the breeding season, Thayer's Gulls nest in the Canadian high Arctic, nesting on the rocky coastlines of islands. The nest is located on the ledge of a rocky island cliff where it is easily protected. Both parents help build the nest, which is a low mound of plant material, with a slight depression in the middle. The female usually lays 2 or 3 eggs, and both parents help incubate the eggs. The hatchlings emerge downy and mottled in brown and yellow. The young gulls are fed and protected by both parents, until they learn to fly in about six weeks.
Thayer's Gulls spend the winter on or near the coast from British Columbia down to Baja California. Small populations have been seen scattered through the Midwest to the Great Lakes. Thayer's Gulls forage while swimming, walking, or flying. When foraging in flight, they have a tern-like characteristic in that they drop to the water's surface or plunge just below it. They eat small fish, crustaceans, mollusks, carrion, eggs, young birds, and garbage.
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)
The Western Gull is a large dark-backed gull of the Pacific Coast that is roughly 22-26 inches (56-66 cm) in length with a 50-57 inch (127-145 cm) wingspan. The adult gull has solid a dark gray color on its back and wings, with black on the wingtips. The undersides of the wings are white with a narrow band of gray. The head is white in the breeding season, and has brown streaking in the non-breeding season. The bill is yellow with a red spot near the tip of the lower mandible, and the feet and legs are pink. The Western Gull is a “four-year gull,” in that it takes four years to reach adult plumage.
The Western Gull prefers to breed on rocky islands near the coast from Southern Washington down to Baja California. The nest is a simple scrape on the ground that is lined with any available vegetation. The female usually lays 2 or 3 eggs, and both parents help incubate the eggs. The young gulls are fed and protected by both parents, until they learn to fly in about six to seven weeks. In colonies where there are more females than males, two females may establish a pair bond. Each lays eggs, and then they both take care of the brood. When female-female pairing occurs, most of the eggs are infertile and do not hatch.
Western Gulls spend the winter on or near the coast from British Columbia down to Baja California. The like to eat marine invertebrates and small fish. They also eat the eggs and chicks of other seabirds. They will scavenge carrion and garbage. These birds forage in flight or pick up objects while swimming, walking, or wading. They will also steal food from cormorants and other gulls. This gull is commonly seen at garbage dumps.
Information provided courtesy of www.birdinfo.com and www.wikipedia.org and the Gull Identification Website and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Photo's © Dave Beeke, Allen Chartier, Philip Chiang, Corey Melchior, Stephen Moore, Ralph Hocken, Michael G. Shepherd, Richard Stern, Mary Beth Stowe, Jorma Tenovuo, Steven P. Wickstrom, Mike Yip, and Wikipedia/Wikicommons.
Have a question or comment about “Seagulls?”
Check out my Frequently Asked Questions page or
Click the button below to send Steven P. Wickstrom an e-mail: