Bird Fact Friday — Mew Gull

Adapted from pages 112, 115 of Gulls Simplified:

Mew Gull is a medium-small, nimble, somewhat elegant gull with a refreshingly uncomplicated plumage pattern. Physical profile is horizontal, somewhat tern-like, with a short neck, round head, and petite bill. Ring-billed and California Gulls have longer, blunter, and more classically hooktipped bills.

As our smallest “white-headed gull,” Mew Gull is most commonly confused with the larger Ring-billed Gull but is more delicately proportioned, with a rounder head and a more slender, pointy, thrush-like bill. Dusky eyes on Mew Gull impart a gentle expression (although some individuals have paler, amber-colored eyes). Darker primaries extend well beyond the tail and are often slightly elevated. Observers may find structural commonality between this species and kittiwakes (mostly pelagic gulls).

This classic adult breeding Mew Gull shows an unmarked yellow bill, yellowish legs, and a dusky eye with a red orbital ring. Photo credit: Kevin Karlson.

Mew Gulls are very social and are often seen loafing on beaches or foraging together. They use several foraging techniques: fluttering low and slow over water with their head turned down and legs dangling; sitting high on the water and swimming buoyantly while turning in the manner of a feeding phalarope; or swimming hard against the current, snapping up edibles as they pass. Loafing birds tend to cluster, sometimes near Ring-billed and California Gulls, but in general they avoid larger species. On land they forage by walking and sometimes catch insects in flight.

Common far-northern breeder from Alaska east to upper western Canada, and a common winter visitor along the West Coast from Washington south to the upper Baja California coastline, but rare elsewhere. Mew Gull occurs year-round in lower coastal Alaska.

In winter, Mew is usually found in nearshore ocean waters, often foraging over kelp beds, and it occurs inland in several locations where it follows large rivers. It also frequents inlet estuaries, sewage outflows, and treatment facilities. Inland it visits short-grass pastures, plowed fields, and sewage treatment ponds, but less typically landfills. Mew Gull also inhabits cities and towns, such as Anchorage, Alaska, where it sits on buildings and forages for scraps of human food in streets and parks. While this species feeds primarily on natural food sources in winter, it occasionally mobs humans for handouts near breeding sites in Alaskan cities when people foolishly take out a few morsels of food to feed the cute gulls nearby.

Gulls Simplified
A Comparative Approach to Identification
By Pete Dunne and Kevin Karlson

This unique photographic field guide to North America’s gulls provides a comparative approach to identification that concentrates on the size, structure, and basic plumage features of gulls—gone are the often-confusing array of plumage details found in traditional guides.

Featuring hundreds of color photos throughout, Gulls Simplified illustrates the variations of gull plumages for a variety of ages, giving readers strong visual reference points for each species. Extensive captions accompany the photos, which include comparative photo arrays, digitized photo arrays for each age group, and numerous images of each species—a wealth of visual information at your fingertips. This one-of-a-kind guide includes detailed species accounts and a distribution map for each gull.

An essential field companion for North American birders, Gulls Simplified reduces the confusion commonly associated with gull identification, offering a more user-friendly way of observing these marvelous birds.

  • Provides a simpler approach to gull identification
  • Features a wealth of color photos for easy comparison among species
  • Includes detailed captions that explain identification criteria and aging, with direct visual reinforcement above the captions
  • Combines plumage details with a focus on size, body shape, and structural features for easy identification in the field
  • Highlights important field marks and physical features for each gull