Adult breeding
  • Adult breeding
  • Adult nonbreeding
  • Adult nonbreeding
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Laughing Gull

Larus atricilla
This is a large and highly varied group of birds that do not have many outward similarities. Most are water birds that feed on invertebrates or small aquatic creatures. The order is well represented in Washington, with seven families:
The family Laridae is made up of birds closely associated with water. Distributed throughout the world, representatives of this family nest on every continent, including Antarctica. Most are long-lived birds, many of which do not breed until they are three or four years old. Most are colony nesters and nest on the ground. Clutch size is generally small, varying from one to four eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs and help feed the young. The young typically hatch covered with down and stay in the nest for a few days, after which they leave the nest but stay nearby. Most, especially in Washington, raise a single brood a year. This group is known for its elaborate displays in the air and on the ground.

The Washington representatives of this family can be split into two groups, or subfamilies. The adaptable gulls are the most familiar. Sociable in all seasons, they are mainly coastal, but a number of species also nest inland. Many—but not all—are found around people. Gulls have highly variable foraging techniques and diets. Terns forage in flight, swooping to catch fish or insects. They dive headfirst into the water for fish. Although they are likely to be near water, they spend less time swimming than gulls.

    General Description

    The Laughing Gull attains full adult plumage in three years. The breeding-plumaged adult has a black hood, white crescents above and below the eyes, a red bill, and a dark gray mantle. It resembles Franklin’s Gull but is noticeably larger with black (not red) legs and solid black outer primaries (wingtips) with no white. The head of the adult in winter plumage is white with a hint of gray behind the eye, and the bill is black. As with most gulls, identification of birds in immature plumages requires care and experience; consult a good field guide.

    The main population of this New World gull breeds along the coast from Atlantic Canada to the Gulf Coast states, Mexico, the West Indies, Central America, and Venezuela, and winters from the Carolinas south to Brazil and Peru. A smaller population breeds in northwestern Mexico—principally the Gulf of California. Many post-breeding birds move north to the Salton Sea and the southern California coast, but Laughing Gull is a very rare vagrant farther north along the Pacific Coast. Washington’s four records occurred from mid-July to early September. Three were along or off the outer coast and the fourth was from Wenatchee (Chelan County). Oregon has three records and there are two from British Columbia.

    Revised June 2007

    North American Range Map

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