If there was a drop-off in seagulls in 2012, naturalist Andy Wood didn’t notice it.
“Gulls are pretty opportunistic,” said Wood, the former education director for Audubon North Carolina. “They tend to go where the food sources are — they might be at the beach for awhile, then fly off to a landfill or a fast-food parking lot.”
Some three dozen species of gulls have been reported in North Carolina, and quite a few spend time regularly along the Lower Cape Fear coast. Several hundred nesting pairs of the laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) spend the late spring and early summer raising young on islands near the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Named for their “ha-ha-ha” call, the laughing gulls are usually the ones you see tailing ferries in hopes of a handout from tourists.
Also common around here are the ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis), larger than the laughing gulls, with white heads and the distintive dark ring on their bills, which spend the year around here but gather particularly in winter; herring gulls (Larus argentatus), white-headed, yellow-beaked birds, which winter here, but sometimes hang around through summer; Bonaparte’s gulls (Chroicocephalus philadelphia), which winter here; and the great black-backed gulls (Larus marinus), the largest Tar Heel gull species, with a wingspan of nearly 6 feet. Not surprisingly, their backs are black-colored.
“Idenfitying gulls can be tricky,” Wood said, “because their plumage changes at different times of the year.” Laughing gulls, for example, have black heads during breeding season, but immature gulls and non-breeding adults might have greyish heads instead. Bonaparte’s gulls are black-headed while breeding, but when we see them during the winter, their heads are usually white.
Laughing gulls, herring gulls and black-backed gulls nest in North Carolina, usually on estuarine islands or spoil islands. The rest migrate up or down the coast seasonally. At the moment, all their populations appear stable and non-threatened.
Date posted: January 2, 2013
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