Bird Fact Friday — Sabine’s Gull

Adapted from pages 69-70 of Gulls Simplified:

A small, trim gull that is smaller than a kittiwake or Mew Gull and most commonly seen in flight over ocean waters (less commonly found sitting on beaches with similarly sized gulls). In flight, Sabine’s appears short bodied, with broadbased, angular wings and a fairly long, uniquely forked tail. 

The bold tricolored upper wing pattern (black, white, and gray) is somewhat similar to that of other species but is distinctly bolder on Sabine’s and thus more visually grabbing. Stiff, shallow, steady wing beats reveal flashes of the bird’s wedge-like white wing patch. Flight is overall lofting and buoyant, but not as nimble or tern-like as that of Bonaparte’s Gull.

Sabine’s forages mostly by swimming and snatching prey from the surface of the water while at sea, and it feeds in shallow pools at breeding sites by stirring up aquatic invertebrates by stomping the substrate with its feet (see Sabine’s Gull 1). It does not respond to chum as readily as kittiwakes on pelagic birding trips. It also hovers and plucks prey from the surface. When foraging on beaches, Sabine’s walks nimbly.

This small, smart-looking, Arctic-breeding gull with a deep charcoal hood going blacker at the collar and front of the face is unique. Photo credit: Kevin Karlson.

In migration, birds resting on the water gather in tight (typically small) clusters. Sabine’s is fairly tame while on the water, allowing close approach by boats before flushing. On West Coast pelagic trips, Sabine’s Gulls are usually seen in small groups. In the interior, single birds are the norm, and these may mix with Bonaparte’s Gulls.

This localized Arctic breeder is fairly common during migration in fall, primarily in offshore northern to central Pacific coastal North American waters; very rare along East Coast in fall. Winter records are extremely rare in North America, with only a few instances of birds remaining until January. Subadult (1st winter) birds typically remain in southern waters until their 2nd year. 

This handsome, mostly pelagic gull breeds in Arctic and subarctic regions but winters in tropical seas off western South America and southern Africa. In North America, it breeds in coastal tundra of western Alaska, the North Slope, and islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, which are far from most human population centers. It also breeds in northern and central Greenland.

There are numerous records of Sabine’s Gulls in the North American interior, mostly in fall, and regular records in the Great Plains and Great Basin regions (Gulls of the Americas, Howell and Dunn, 2007). Fall migration is from late July through October; spring migration is from March through May (occasionally into June).

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

Bird Fact Friday — Franklin’s Gull

Adapted from pages 44-46; 49 of Gulls Simplified:

This small, gregarious, petite-billed, and blackheaded breeder of the western interior suggests a smaller, stockier Laughing Gull, with a shorter, straighter bill, shorter legs, and conspicuously shorter, round-tipped wings. Franklin’s also has a rounder head with more prominent white eye arcs and boldly patterned black outer wings with large white spots (mirrors) near the tip of the outer primaries (adults). Franklin’s are agile gulls, able to hop over obstacles and perch on cattails.

During the breeding season, they hawk insects over marshes, and in migration often forage on tilled agricultural land. When foraging for aquatic insects on lakes, they behave like a swimming phalarope, plucking insects from the surface. In some locations, migrating flocks may number in the thousands. Franklin’s Gulls forage on beaches, inshore waters, lakeshores, and dry or flooded fields, and they nest in freshwater marshes. They are often found in small homogeneous flocks, but inland they may mix with California Gulls. In migration on the Gulf coast, they often roost and rest with Laughing Gulls.

Adult, non breeding Franklin’s Gulls. They are typically 13.25-15 inches long, with a wingspan of 33-36 inches. Photo credit: Kevin Karlson

Common in appropriate habitats, it breeds for the most part in small to very large colonies in inland marshes and lakes on the prairies, in the Great Basin, and in the northern Rocky Mountains. 

Breeding colonies may number in the hundreds, or as many as twenty-five thousand pairs, which occurred at the Lake Alice National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota in 2000 (North Dakota Game and Fish Department website, 2017). 

During migration, Franklin’s is common to abundant from August to October through its main migratory corridor south through the Great Plains, and also along the Texas lowland coastal areas from mid-October through November (Gulls of the Americas, Howell and Dunn, 2007). Migratory  flocks at this coastal Texas location can number in the many thousands, and Kevin witnessed a flock of over six thousand birds at South Padre Island, Texas, in early November 2003. Migration through the interior is often spread out, with migrating birds widely dispersed until larger numbers gather at nighttime roosts on bodies of water. Winter range is primarily coastal regions of western South America.

This species has experienced a notable decline over the last fifty years (78 percent) according to North American Breeding Bird Atlas data, but population numbers and concerns vary according to individual research papers.

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

Bird Fact Friday — Black-Legged Kittiwake

Adapted from pages 73-76 of Gulls Simplified

A small marine gull (larger than Bonaparte’s). Overall compact, with a squarish head, short legs, and a small, pointy, slender bill with a down-turned gape (visible line at base of bill juncture) that gives birds the suggestion of a frown. Large dark eyes on a blank face impart a gentle expression.

In flight it shows a somewhat compact and tubular body with long, narrow, boomerang-shaped wings and a tail that is narrow and long. The bird’s nimbleness in flight coupled with its wing shape and quick, stiff wing beats suggests a swift, bulky tern. On land it appears short legged, with an upright posture. Unlike most gulls, kittiwakes will dive headfirst into the water to secure prey, in the manner of terns.

The Black-Legged Kittiwake is typically 16-18 inches long, with a wingspan between 36.5-47 inches. This image shows the down-turned gape line behind a pointy, bright yellow bill, which imparts a dour expression to adults, but the dark eye against a plain white head gives the bird a gentle expression.                                    Photo credit: Kevin Karlson.

Black-legged Kittiwake is an Arctic and subarctic cliff-nesting breeder, commonly seen in appropriate habitats onshore near nest islands in Alaska and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Population numbers are increasing in some areas, and many birds now nest in Homer, Alaska, on the girders of small bridges connecting the Homer Spit to marina docking locations because of saturation on nearby breeding islands. It is fairly common in winter well offshore on both coasts.

Black-legged Kittiwakes are uncommonly seen on land, except on breeding cliffs and adjacent shorelines in Arctic and subarctic regions and on coastlines where tired birds come to rest on sandy beaches or rocky shorelines, especially on the Pacific coast. Offshore they commonly gather where other marine birds are foraging, most notably Northern Fulmars and alcids. Most land-based observations in the Atlantic are storm or wind related, but migration in the northwestern Pacific region allows occasional viewing from shore in fall. Black-legged Kittiwakes winter along both coasts, often very far from shore.

 

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

 

Bird Fact Friday—Bonaparte’s Gull

Adapted from page 50 of Gulls Simplified:

Bonaparte’s is delicately proportioned overall, with a long-winged profile; a small, round head; and a petite, short, thin, straight, pointy, tern-like bill. In feeding flight, they often impart a potbellied profile when dipping down to the water’s surface to gather food. Initial confusion with terns is not just possible but likely because of their size, physical resemblance, and buoyant flight style. Legs are relatively short compared to those of other North American hooded gulls other than Little Gull.

An adult Boneparte’s Gull, photographed in Churchill, Manitoba around June. This bird is usually 12.3-13.8 inches long, with a wingspan between 30-36 inches.
Photo credit: Kevin Karlson.

In flight, adults show a flashing white triangle on the leading edge of the outer wing, while 1st winter birds have reduced white on the underwing primary tips and black shafts and markings on a white outer wing triangle. Adults have uniformly pale silvery-gray upperparts and white underparts, making the black trailing edge to the outer wing and the black bill stand out.

Bonaparte’s is a small, petite gull with a dainty black bill. This complete breeding plumage is not regularly seen in parts of North America and is seen only briefly at normal migratory locations from April to May. Note the all-black hood (brown in Black-headed Gull), bold white eye arcs, and petite black bill (reddish to black in Black-headed). These nimble gulls commonly perch on elevated platforms, where the pink legs of adults are evident.

 

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

Bird Fact Friday —The Laughing Gull

Adapted from pages 35-37 of Gulls Simplified:

A flock of adult Laughing Gulls, photographed in New Jersey in May. Photo credit: Kevin Karlson

This lanky gull stands with a horizontal profile and shows black wing tips that are acutely pointed and extend well beyond the tail. A long, slender bill droops near the tip. Long, typically black legs are set moderately forward, with some birds showing dull to fairly bright red legs in the breeding season. The dark hood is replaced by a mostly white head with a dark ear patch and scattered dark markings on the crown in winter. 

On beaches and in the water, they tend to gather in tightly bunched monotypic flocks away from larger gulls. In mixed-species flocks, Laughing Gulls often segregate to one side. Very agile and aerial, this species is adept at snapping insects out of the air and may gather in wheeling numbers over  marshes and uplands when an insect hatch is in progress. They are also a threat to coastal tern colonies and beach-nesting shorebirds, since they can swoop in and grab an egg or small chick before the defending birds can react to their approach. The bird’s loud, raucous (laughing) call is iconic, as much a part of a visit to coastal beaches and marshes as the sound of surf and the tang of salt-laden air. The sound of feeding flocks approaches the level of a din. Breeding colonies are noisy, even at night.

Skilled foragers, Laughing Gulls are adept at plucking food from human hands, whether the morsel is offered or not, and they seem to know all about picnic baskets, potato chip bags, and their contents. Very social and vocal, Laughing Gulls also forage offshore in large aggregations, usually within sight of land, where noisy feeding flocks hover and wheel over schools of baitfish. They commonly pursue other gulls and seabirds to steal food.

While most commonly found on sandy beaches, Laughing Gulls also frequents tidal wetlands, plowed fields, parks, and picnic areas. You may also share your hotel swimming pool with these birds in coastal areas with warm climates as they drop by for a drink or a swim. Though mostly coastal year-round, individuals are occasionally found well inland, most commonly on freshly turned agricultural land, landfills, and the parking lots of food outlets.

 

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

 

Bird Fact Friday – the Lesser Black-Backed Gull

Adapted from pages 266 to 273 of Gulls of the World:

The Lesser Black-Backed Gull is a four-year gull, and resembles a dark-backed, more slender version of Herring Gull, with rounder head and slightly thinner bill that appears less blunt-tipped and slightly drooping. They have long, slender wings are often held lowered when relaxed. Their head and underbody is whitish with dark streaking to mottling and dark eye-mask, while their central hindbelly and vent may lack dark spotting. The darkest of these birds have rather uniform brown head and underbody. Meanwhile, their upperwing is dark brown with blackish flight feathers, only rarely with indication of paler inner webs to inner primaries. They have two solid dark wing-bars, formed by blackish centres to greater coverts and secondaries, and an underwing that is blackish-brown to barred grey-brown in contrast to paler flight feathers. Finally, their rump is white with dense dark spotting reaching upper mantle as slight paler wedge against darker scapulars, and their tail is black with narrow white bases and spots along edges of t6; sometimes with more extensive white at base and narrower black tail-bar.

A gull

An adult Lesser Black-Backed Gull (intermedius). It’s a rather dark individual
with blackish upperparts, almost concolorous with wing-tip. Photographed by the author in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In flight, they are dark enough to be mistaken at range for juvenile skua (especially Pomarine, which is similar in size and dark overall plumage). The majority retain juvenile plumage in first part of autumn, unlike Yellow-legged, Caspian and many Herring Gulls, which from Sep have renewed mantle and scapulars and have slightly worn coverts. They breed colonially along coasts and on islands, locally on islands in lakes and rivers, on moors and on buildings.

There was a large increase since the 1940s with the extension of breeding range from 1920, so it is able to manage competition with Herring Gull. Since the 1990s, they have been breeding in Greenland; they probably also breed in North America, where scarce visitors to East Canada and USA. Most of the European population is migratory, but some remain near breeding sites to winter in milder parts of West Europe. Birds leave breeding sites from late July, with several stops during southward journey. Most winters are spent in the West Mediterranean and Atlantic coastline between the South Iberian peninsula and Mauritania, with some reaching southwards to interior West Africa and Gulf of Guinea coasts.

Gulls of the World
By Klaus Malling Olsen

With more than 50 gull species in the world, this family of seabirds poses some of the greatest field identification challenges of any bird group: age-related plumage changes, extensive variations within species, frequent hybridization, and complex distribution. 

Gulls of the World takes on these challenges and is the first book to provide a comprehensive look at these birds. Concise text emphasizes field identification, with in-depth discussion of variations as well as coverage of habitat, status, and distribution. Abundant photographs highlight identification criteria and, crucially, factor in age and subspecific field separation. Informative species accounts are accompanied by detailed color range maps.

Gulls of the World is the most authoritative photographic guide to this remarkable bird family.

  • The first book to provide in-depth coverage of all the world’s gull species
  • More than 600 stunning color photographs
  • Concise text looks at variations, habitat, status, and distribution
  • Informative species accounts and color range maps

 

 

 

Bird Fact Friday— Mediterranean Gull

Adapted from pages 68-71 of Gulls of the World:

The Mediterranean Gull is a three-year gull. They are medium-sized and compact with large squarish head, a deep parallel-edged bill with drooping tip, dark eyes and long legs. The largest males of this species are almost size of Common Gull and have the heaviest bills. Meanwhile, the smallest females are Black-headed Gull-sized with shorter, stubby bills. Settled birds look stocky with long legs; when relaxed, often appear compact and neckless with flat back. Swimming birds sit high on water.

In flight, these gulls are full-bodied with a short neck, ‘well-fed’ belly and shortish-looking wings, appearing rounded and in adults very pale. Flight with stiffer wing-beats than Black-headed and Common Gulls, somewhat recalling that of small egrets (particularly in the case of palewinged adults). May feed with short dips, but will also chase flying insects like Black-headed Gull.

A Mediterranean Gull.

Their most common call is a mellow yelping ee-ar or yee-ah, slightly reminiscent of male  Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, or small barking dog.

These gulls nest along coasts and lagoons with sparse vegetation, generally avoiding barren sand. They breed mainly from Black Sea region westwards; extension of breeding range from 1940s to scattered regions of S Europe northwards to Denmark and westwards to southern England.

Migration takes place mainly coastal with large concentrations around W Black Sea in September before leaving for winter quarters in S Black Sea and Mediterranean. Most of W European population gathers in N France following breeding season. They are regular visitors to Europe north of breeding range. Vagrant to Iceland, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Macaronesia, Africa S to Senegal, The Gambia and Kenya, and Jordan, Iraq, Arabian Gulf and Kazakhstan.

Gulls of the World
By Klaus Malling Olsen

With more than 50 gull species in the world, this family of seabirds poses some of the greatest field identification challenges of any bird group: age-related plumage changes, extensive variations within species, frequent hybridization, and complex distribution. 

Gulls of the World takes on these challenges and is the first book to provide a comprehensive look at these birds. Concise text emphasizes field identification, with in-depth discussion of variations as well as coverage of habitat, status, and distribution. Abundant photographs highlight identification criteria and, crucially, factor in age and subspecific field separation. Informative species accounts are accompanied by detailed color range maps.

Gulls of the World is the most authoritative photographic guide to this remarkable bird family.

  • The first book to provide in-depth coverage of all the world’s gull species
  • More than 600 stunning color photographs
  • Concise text looks at variations, habitat, status, and distribution
  • Informative species accounts and color range maps

Bird Fact Friday — Pallas’s Gull

Adapted from pages 46-48 of Gulls of the World:

Pallas’s Gull is a four-year gull, but with initial rapid plumage development as in three-year gulls. The largest hooded gull by far, Pallas’s Gull is almost as large as Great Black-backed Gull, and dwarfs almost any other gull in its company. Its pear-shaped head has flat crown that peaks well behind dark eyes. These gulls have a long, heavy bill, while its head looks small relative to heavy, barrel-shaped body. In settled birds, the breast appears full, but their rear is attenuated with wings extending moderately beyond tail-tip. Loosely folded tertials create a prominent hump. Meanwhile, their legs are long and thin, with long visible tibia. 

With regards to their in flight profile, it is front-heavy with triangular head, protruding breast and slender wings, like an oversized Caspian Gull. They fly ponderously and slowly with heron-like wing-beats, gliding on angled wings with little flexing at carpal joint. The birds are known for often lowering their bill in flight. They frequently catch fish by hovering and diving. Swimming birds sit higher on water than other large gulls.

A gull.

A Pallas Gull in Uttar Pradesh, India.

These gulls are not very vocal. Calls deep and short, on breeding sites a deep há-u. Flocks utter a goose-like ga-gaga. They also make a low, slightly nasal oow, similar to the calls of the Common Raven Corvus corax. Finally, their alarm call a barking whe-ow.

These gulls breed from Central Asia W to Ukraine and the S Caspian region, along with E to W Mongolia. They nest on barren islands in saline and fresh waters, generally in warm, dry steppe areas and mountain lakes. Colonies often relocate from year to year. Main winter areas are between E Mediterranean (westwards to Sicily) and Bay of Bengal along fish-rich coasts, rivers and lakes, also fish-ponds and reservoirs. Populations from Tibet winter mainly in Bangladesh. They are scarce southwards to Lake Turkana in Kenya and eastwards to Gulf of Thailand and Hong Kong. Regular visitor to SE Europe in increasing numbers from late 1980s, with most records May–Sep; majority recorded Hungary, Romania and Poland, probably after following Dnieper River system from Ukraine. Vagrant NW Africa, Canary Islands, Madeira, most European countries northwards to Norway, Uganda, Burundi, Vietnam, E China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan.

 

Gulls of the World
By Klaus Malling Olsen

With more than 50 gull species in the world, this family of seabirds poses some of the greatest field identification challenges of any bird group: age-related plumage changes, extensive variations within species, frequent hybridization, and complex distribution. 

Gulls of the World takes on these challenges and is the first book to provide a comprehensive look at these birds. Concise text emphasizes field identification, with in-depth discussion of variations as well as coverage of habitat, status, and distribution. Abundant photographs highlight identification criteria and, crucially, factor in age and subspecific field separation. Informative species accounts are accompanied by detailed color range maps.

Gulls of the World is the most authoritative photographic guide to this remarkable bird family.

  • The first book to provide in-depth coverage of all the world’s gull species
  • More than 600 stunning color photographs
  • Concise text looks at variations, habitat, status, and distribution
  • Informative species accounts and color range maps