One of the joys of a visit to the shore is watching the sea gulls. The large birds are scavengers, and although wary of people, often venture close in hopes of finding discarded bits of food. Children chase but cannot catch them. In the air, the birds are even more impressive.
I didn’t see many young gulls this year, which made the task of identifying the birds in my photos easier. Since young birds look different from mature birds and plumage colors can change with the seasons, identifying their species can be tricky.
The Laughing Gull is a medium-sized gull. In summer, the adult Laughing Gull has a distinct black head with a narrow white border around the eyes. In winter, the head is gray streaked. The neck and underparts are white, and the back and wings are dark gray. Although the hind edge of the wing is white, the wing tip is black and has no white spots. The bill, which has a slight downturn at the tip, and the legs and feet are reddish black to black.
Laughing gulls inhabit the Atlantic coast, bays, estuaries in summer and are rarely found inland. They eat a wide variety of foods, including discards from fishing boats and handouts from beach-goers.
In flight, the Laughing Gull is agile and lovely. The undersides of Laughing Gulls’ wings are white, shading to gray and then black at the tips.
I had a hard time getting a photo of a gull in flight because they are a lot quicker than I am. One afternoon a stiff southern wind slowed the gulls enough for me to keep up with their flights so I could capture these images.
Herring Gulls are large sea gulls that have become abundant along the North Atlantic Coast as well as inland near lakes, rivers, and landfills. In recent years, they have extended their range southward, often driving out weaker species.
Adult Herring Gulls have a white head, neck, and breast, medium gray back and wings, and black wingtips spotted with white. They have a thick yellow bill with a red spot near the end of the lower bill, and their legs and feet are pink.
The Herring Gull takes four years to reach maturity. Young birds are a mottled brown, but the coloring is quite variable, making it hard to identify young birds.
The Herring Gull is a scavenger but also eats aquatic animals and berries.
The Great Black-backed Gull
Our largest gull, the Great Black-backed Gull can often be found with Herring Gulls. The two species even nest in mixed colonies, although the Great Black-backed Gull dominates its smaller relative. Except for its light-colored eyes and black back and wings, the great Black-backed Gull resembles the Herring Gull, with its white head, neck, and underparts, pinkish legs and feet, and thick yellow bill with a red dot near the end of the lower bill.
Like the Herring Gull, the young of the Great Black-backed Gull are mottled brown and take four years to reach maturity.
Great Black-backed Gulls live frequent the coast, estuaries, and garbage dumps. They are less common on inland rivers and lakes. In addition to scavenging in garbage dumps, the gulls eat carrion, smaller birds, fish, shellfish, and the eggs of other gulls.
Have you ever chased a sea gull or thrown one a piece of bread?