Laughing Gull – a study


Laughing Gull juvenile in flight – From August2011

Still from the weekend at the shore, some shots of a few Laughing Gulls.  This is my first opportunity to get close up, a few juveniles and adults were standing on the beach with several Ring-Billed Gulls, and as the beach was crowded, they weren’t too shy about getting 10 feet away.  If I am mistaken in my ID’s as always please correct me so I can learn. From reading the description of the molt patterns , I believe I have only adults and juveniles here and no 2nd cycle birds. The difference in 2nd cycle summer and adult winter is subtle (at least to me).  The 2nd adult pictured seems more dirty than gray on the front and why I don’t believe it a 2nd cycle. I hope to see more this summer/fall to be able to compare the first and second cycles with adults. I decided to do a review of the species to learn more about the bird.

Adult Basic Plumage or winter/non-breeding – From August2011

Larus atriculla, now Leucophaleus atriculla is a medium sized gull, slightly smaller than ring-billed gulls.  It is a 3 cycle bird.  Depending on how the plumages are described by which author, it can get confusing.  They can be described by season and cylce or by molts. Plumages:  adult breeding and nonbreeding (or adult basic), juvenile, 1st cycle and 2nd cycle.  Noisy birds with long drooping bill, long lean body and flattish head, also known as the Ichabod Gull ( i like that nickname).  Their wings extend well beyond the tail.  Colonial birds that nest in salty marshes, rocky and sandy shores from Nova Scotia as far south as Texas.  Birds start to disperse in July to August and northern birds migrate southwards in August to September.

Without a lot of illustrations/photos, I don’t want to get super technical and detailed in describing the molts, but I will list what I pulled out of the sources that helped me determine the ID’s.

  • Adult Breeding (March-Aug) – head all black, red bill and legs, dark grey back
  • Adult basic plumage/winter – bill and legs blackish, head dirty gray cap, and different sources/photos show variable amount of black.  Bold black and white wing tips, small white primary tips, rump and tail white
  • Juvenile – warm brown color, scalloped pattern above, solid gray/brown head breast and sides.  Often mistaken for parasitic Jaeger when flying low over water and not looking close enough at the bird.
  • 1st Winter/cycle – dark gray back almost to adult like, brown wings of juvenile, head darkish/shadowy, again seems variable depending on source
  • 2nd cycle/2nd basic plumage – similar to adult basic but neck chest and sides are variable gray to solid gray and many have a tail band


same adult – From August2011
same adult – From August2011
I think adult basic plumage in mid molt but possible 2nd cycle with sort of grayish chest? – From August2011
From August2011
juvenile in flight – From August2011
juvenile – From August2011

juvenile – From August2011juvenile – From August2011juvenile – From August2011juvenile – From August2011

Sources Used:

Gulls of the Americas by Steve N.G. Howell & Jon Dunn.
Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, Pete Dunn 2006.
The Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds, Richard Crossley 2011.
The Sibley Guide to Birds, David Allen Sibley 2000.

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About docforestal

I currently observe nature in my spare time, using photography and observation to learn as much as I can about the beauty around me.
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10 Responses to Laughing Gull – a study

  1. John says:

    This is a nice set of photographs of what might be my favorite gull!

  2. I admire you diving in to the world of gulls. They are overwhelming to me!

  3. Really like this post. Laughing Gulls are fun to watch! I think this would have been a great post for one of your drawings. . .

  4. eileeninmd says:

    Great series! The Laughing Gull is my favorite. I do find gulls to be very difficult for id-ing. Thanks for shairng a great post.

  5. Dawn Fine says:

    Great series and study. Seeing lots of gulls here in Chatham.

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