Sunday, November 07, 2010

At least I know it's a gull

I have a problem with gulls. I love them; I think they're beautiful, smart, and very funny. The problem is that I keep trying to put a name to them, and I can't keep them straight in my head. Mew gull, California, Herring, Thayer's, Ring-billed, Western, or Glaucous-winged; adult, immature, first year, second year; brown, grey, white; yellow-, pink-, black-billed or -legged: why do they have to be so confusing?

Dave Ingram wrote a helpful post the other day, describing the adult Ring-billed Gull. "... easy to identify", he says. And when I was looking over some photos I took on White Rock beach, I thought I had one. Easy!

See? A ring around the bill!

Not so fast! I have to check out the other characteristics first. Here's Dave's list:
  • a black ring around a medium sized bill
  • yellow legs
  • pale-yellow eye
  • black wingtips with two small white spots on the leading edge of the wing (in flight)
1. Black ring: check. 2. Medium-sized bill: check. 3. Yellow legs: no. They're pinkish. 4. Pale yellow eye: no. Dark, with a hint of yellow. 5. Black wingtips with 6. two white spots: check, I think. I don't have a flight photo.

Pinkish legs, black wingtips.

4 out of 6 isn't bad, but that's not an adult ring-bill. Maybe a juvenile? I looked them up on the Cornell "All About Birds" site. It divides the juveniles into Juvenal, First winter, First summer, and Second winter. The first three have pinkish legs and dark eyes. Good. But the bill is yellow. Not so good; my gull has a definitely white bill. And the wings are supposed to be brown; these are definitely grey.

I give up. For now. But at least I may remember the characteristics for next time.


  1. Gulls certainly are a challenge to identify. That is why I just call them all gulls.

  2. Send the photo to Dave and ask him!

  3. I never looked at the differences between gulls before. They were all just "seagulls"(I know that's a misnomer, but ... it fits for me). Now when the gulls come into town (usually when there's a storm at the beach), I try to see the differences. And I do! It's amazing what you see when you start looking!

  4. Hm. Where are you located? I could see that guy being either a third-year Herring Gull, or possibly a third-year Western Gull. Or something else; gulls are, as you've pointed out, fiendishly hard sometimes.

    But that's my take on it. A really good guide if you want to get serious about gull identification is Gulls of the Americas. It has numerous photos of every stage of development of all the New World gull species, along with really good explanatory material. See:

  5. My best guess is the Herring Gull - or maybe a California Gull. Many gulls have a "ring" in their bill during 3rd calendar year. So you need to look also at the shape of the head and other structural features, when you try to identify gulls. And don't forget the possibility of hybrids. They are pretty common there in in the West Coast. See for example a photo of hybrid gull in my blog:

  6. John, You mean I have to look at third year gulls, too? I think I like your adverb: "fiendishly".

    Thanks, though; I will look at the Herring and Western and California gulls again, including the third-year batch.

    Olli; I loved that post. It made me aware of how fortunate we are and how little we appreciate it.

  7. I have a picture of almost the same gull - the white beak threw me. It also has the ring around the bill, pink legs and a very dark eye.


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