Category Archives: Gulls

White Season Birds: Iceland Gull

Photo of Iceland Gull (immature)

Iceland Gulls are uncommon but regular white season visitors to parts of New England. Along with Glaucous Gulls, they're referred to as "white-winged" gulls, as all ages have light-colored wings with little to no dark markings.

Iceland Gulls take 4 years to acquire adult plumage, and for their 1st year are a generally evenly patterned off-white to tan color with pink legs and a dark bill (see photo above and gallery below). Adults have a mostly white body, a gray mantle, gray upper wings (with/without limited black at primary tips), and a yellow bill with a red spot.

Photo of Iceland Gull (adult)
Three photos stitched together of one adult Iceland Gull

Size-wise, Iceland Gulls average smaller than Herring Gulls, and larger than Ring-billed Gulls. Paying close attention to wing-tip color, try to spot the immature Iceland Gull in this coastal congregation. Can you identify all 5 gull species pictured? (See the answer below).

Photo of Mixed Gulls

To learn more about Iceland Gulls, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Answer: The photo contains (from smallest to largest): a Bonaparte's Gull, Ring-billed Gulls, an Iceland Gull, Herring Gulls, and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Quick Guide to Gulls: Lesser Black-backed Gull

Photo of Lesser Black-backed Gull

The Lesser Black-backed Gull (Bird Code: LBBG) is primarily a species of Europe, but in recent decades has been turning up in North America in larger numbers.* LBBGs average smaller than Herring Gulls (HERG), but larger than Ring-billed Gulls (RBGU). Adult birds have gray mantles that are darker than those of HERGs or RBGUs, but not as dark at those of Great Black-backed Gulls (GBBGs). The following photo shows an adult LBBG with an adult GBBG. In addition to the size and color differences, notice the yellow legs of the LBBG, versus the pink legs of the GBBG.

Photo of Lesser and Greater Black-backed Gulls

The first Lesser Black-backed Gull I ever saw was with a mixed flock of gulls (that included at least one Iceland Gull) at a mostly ice-covered reservoir in Rhode Island. Can you pick out the LBBG in the following crowded scene? (See full-size).

Photo of Mixed gull flock (LBBG bottom center)

Note: Today's photos were taken in low light and at a fair distance, so the image quality is less than sharp. To see higher quality images of LBBGs, visit the Audubon Field Guide or All About Birds.

*In 2007, a LBBG nested with a HERG on Appledore Island in Maine. This was the first US east coast breeding record.

Quick Guide to Gulls: Laughing Gull

Photo of Laughing Gull (juvenile)

By getting to know Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gulls, you'll be prepared to spot less common species, like this juvenile Laughing Gull, who I spied among the previously mentioned gulls on a Biddeford beach. Though not a rare bird in Maine, Laughing Gulls are uncommon in York county, visiting in small numbers primarily from May through October.

Photo of Laughing Gull (adult in May)

As is typical of gulls, juvenile Laughing Gulls tend to be uniformly brown, whereas adults are dressed to impress. By their 3rd summer, Laughing Gulls have usually attained adult plumage: clean white undersides, gray mantle, black hood with white eye-arcs, and reddish-black bill and legs. The only other hooded gull commonly seen in New England is the smaller Bonaparte's Gull. The two adults pictured here were photographed in May and August, respectively, in Biddeford Pool, Maine.

Photo of Laughing Gull (adult in August)

Learn more about Laughing Gulls, including listening to their laughter and viewing photos of non-breeding birds, over at All About Birds.

Quick Guide to Gulls: Bonaparte’s Gull

Photo of Bonaparte's Gull immature in flight

Bonaparte's Gulls are the smallest type of gull commonly found on the east coast (Little Gulls are smaller, but quite rare). During the summer, while adult Bonaparte's are on their breeding grounds in central Canada and Alaska, some immature birds spend their summer days on southern Maine beaches.  First-cycle birds (like the two pictured here) have a dirty look, with dark-tipped flight feathers, a solid-black tail band, and either a dark ear spot, or a partial dark hood. Continue reading Quick Guide to Gulls: Bonaparte’s Gull

Quick Guide to Gulls: Glaucous Gull

Unless you know where to go and what to look for, you may never see a Glaucous Gull in New England.  eBird can help you with where to look (see Glaucous Gull sightings map), and this post should help tune your spotting skills.

Photo of Gull mix

A useful starting point is to find a large group of gulls and methodically scan the wing-tip color of each bird.  Glaucous Gulls (along with young Iceland Gulls) have white or light-colored wing-tips, in stark contrast to the dark wing-tips of the more common Herring, Ring-billed, and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Size is another factor.  Whereas Iceland Gulls are smaller than an average Herring Gull, Glaucous Gulls are larger.  For example, below is a photograph of two white-winged gulls who caught my eye in South Portland, ME.  The bird, left of center, with wings stretched is a Glaucous; the other white-winged gull is an Iceland.

Photo of Glaucous Gull and Iceland Gull wings

Another useful field mark is bill color.  Both 1st and 2nd winter Glaucous Gulls have bi-colored bills -- pink tipped with black -- like the bird on the right in the photo below.  Older Glaucous Gulls (not pictured) have other characteristics, which I won't discuss here as they are less frequently seen in New England than young birds.  In contrast, young Iceland Gulls have mostly-dark bills.  (Note: The dark-billed gull below is a juvenile Herring.)

Photo of Glaucous Gull (immature)

At the risk of oversimplifying, if you see a large, all-white gull with a bi-colored bill, you've likely found a young Glaucous Gull.  The following photo shows a Ring-billed (top left), Iceland (center), Glaucous (right), and Great Black-backed (bottom).

Photo of Glaucous Gull and Iceland Gull

Of course, at times these field marks are difficult to notice, and size can be hard to judge.  In some cases, a particular gull will simply strike you as different.  With this in mind, can you spot the sleepy Glaucous Gull in the top photo?