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Bonaparte's Gull Larus philadelphia


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Bonaparte's Gull, breeding
credit: FWS

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Laridae, Gulls and Terns view all from this family

Description ADULT SUMMER Has pale gray back and upper wings, white underparts and neck, and blackish hood. Bill is dark and legs are red. ADULT WINTER Similar, but dark hood is lost and dark ear coverts contrast with otherwise white head. JUVENILE Mainly mottled brown, but acquires first-winter plumage in early fall: similar to winter adult, but with dark trailing edge to entire wing, less striking pale leading edge (some dark feathering), and dark bar on inner upper wing; legs are pale pink.

Dimensions Length: 12-14" (30-36 cm)

Habitat Common breeding species, in colonies in marshes and around lakes in boreal forests; nests in trees. Outside breeding season, found on Atlantic and Gulf coasts, on wetlands across southern U.S. states and on Great Lakes.

Observation Tips Easy to see during breeding season in Arctic. Outside breeding season, locally common.

Range Rocky Mountains, Eastern Canada, New England, Florida, Mid-Atlantic, Texas, Northwest, Southwest, California, Southeast, Plains, Western Canada, Alaska, Great Lakes

Voice Call is tern like, nasal, and higher pitched than other gulls.

Similar Species Little Gull L. minutus (L 11-12 in) is a rare breeder and scarce in winter on Atlantic coast and Great Lakes. Adult has dark hood in summer, dark smudges and cap in winter; note pale gray upper wing with white tip and trailing edge, and blackish underwing with white tip and trailing edge. Juvenile has dark back, dark cap and ear spot; first-winter has dark bars on gray upper wing and dark-tipped tail; underwing pale in both.

Discussion Our commonest small gull. Flight is buoyant and, at times, tern like. In flight, all adults show white leading edge and dark trailing margin to primaries. Forms loose flocks outside breeding season. Sexes are similar.