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?

2 thoughts on “Quick Guide to Gulls: Glaucous Gull”

    1. You may be right that gulls are less common inland, but I wouldn’t rule out seeing a few in any part of New England. Ring-billed Gulls are probably the most likely gulls encountered away from the coast, especially during migration. You may find them near major rivers (as you pointed out), as well as lakes, landfills, highway rest stops, and shopping plazas.

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