General Characteristics of Gulls
There are 87 species of gulls most of which belong to one genus Larus.
This web page only covers two of the gulls which are of interest on
pelagic birding trips: Sabine’s Gull, and
Gulls walk well with legs situated in the middle of the body. They are
good at gliding and can takoff without running to get up to speed. Gulls
swim buoyantly, but are not able to dive under the water.
They are scavengers and some species such as Herring Gulls have
increased their numbers dramatically by feeding on human garbage dumps.
Attend trawlers thereby benefiting from human activity of fishing. Also
prey on eggs and young of other seabirds. Known to attack small Alcids.
The author once watched a Great Black-backed Gull decapitate a Dovekie.
Gulls require 2-4 years to achieve maturity and display plumage
variation with age. Most species breed in the northern hemisphere with
only a few adapting to the southern hemisphere. Most gulls disburse in
the breeding area, but some migrate long distances.
Sea Gulls ??
Despite the common name sea gull, most gulls are coastal. Only a few are
truly pelagic. They have no salt regulation glands, and must drink fresh
water which requires then to return to the land daily. In New England,
Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls are seen on Stellwagen Bank
and other offshore location following fishing boats and cetaceans
What's In The NameThe Kittiwake was named for its 3 syllable call which
sounds like "Keep Away" or "Kitti Wake". Also called "frost gull" or
"winter gull" because it appears in New England waters in winter.
Breeds in northern hemisphere. Greenland, Iceland, British Isles,
Newfoundland, far northern Canada, Alaska, Siberia.In winter moves south
to winter off the coast of North Africa, North America on both
coasts..Highly persecuted by humans. Eggs taken and birds shot for food.
Relief from human persecution has resulted in increasing numbers.
Where To See
In late fall and winter pelagic trips or from land look for first year
or adult winter plumage birds. Breeding birds can be seen at Cape St.
Mary in Newfoundland, Bonaventure Island in Gaspe, and Bird Island in
Nova Scotia.FeedingFeeds mainly by picking from the surface. Adept
scavenger in harbors and behind fishing boats.(Grant 1982). Does not
prey on other birds.
Late fall and winter you are likely to see non-breeding adult birds from
boat trips or from land. The following three pictures are of winter
adults. Notice the all black wing tips with no white windows, all white
tail, black legs, dusky markings on head and collar, yellow bill.