Want to ask a question? Click here

Why were there fewer gulls around this summer? And where do they nest?

Ben Steelman

Halifax Media

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.


Do you have any idea where the hummingbirds are this year?

What happened to the pigeons that used to be in downtown Wilmington? Has the city been feeding them chemicals?


User-contributed question by:

Got a comment about this post or know more about the answer? Click here to let us know!

Bookmark and Share

2 Responses to “ Why were there fewer gulls around this summer? And where do they nest?”

  1. On January 2, 2013 at 6:03 pm Jan E. Lorah wrote:

    Thanks for the research and extensive answer. I will deduct, from your answer, that the missing gulls on “our” beaches of last summer were all hanging out at the local Hardees’ parking lot during the summer months of most crowded beaches. It’s good to see them back again.

  2. On January 4, 2013 at 10:00 am jeannie johnson wrote:

    They may be at the port eating corn from the docks. With all the corn ships we loose some in the handleing.

Ask a question

Ask a question

If you’re looking for answers about living in coastal North Carolina, you’ve come to the right place. If we don’t have the answer to your question, we’ll find out or try to find someone who does. Hey, that’s our job! So, ask your question below and we’ll do our best to find the answer. Once we do, we’ll post it in an appropriate category.

Can we use your name to credit you by name (no e-mail or other contact information) with this question when we post an answer?
Your question:

Post a comment

Talk to us!

Have a comment about this post or know more about the answer? Use this form to let us know. Note that all comments are moderated and must be approved before they are posted, although you may see your own comments the first time you post them.

Your comment: