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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote® Gull Identification

Air Date: Week of

Herring Gull. (Photo: © Tom Grey)

It’s migration time for birds, and in the Northwest part of the United States, gulls are on the move. Michael Stein notes that it can be quite difficult to tell gulls apart.



GELLERMAN: Birders take great pride in their ability to identify our fine-feathered friends by their color, size, and sounds. But when it comes to ID-ing gulls in the Pacific Northwest, well, that can ruffle the feathers of even the most seasoned birdwatcher. BirdNote®’s Michael Stein helps sort things out.


STEIN: Gulls, to be sure, present a kind of Sunday crossword puzzle of bird identification.


This Laughing Gull looks quite serious. (Photo: © Tom Grey)

STEIN: Their similar overall coloration of black, white, and gray – and plumages that change both with the seasons and a bird’s age – can be mind-boggling. Gulls are a year-round fixture of coastal waters and many locales in the interior of the continent.


STEIN: Yet despite what may seem an unchanging picture, major shifts take place each year in local gull concentrations.


A Western Gull in flight. (Photo: © Tom Grey)

STEIN: Relatively few gull species are common nesters in the lower 48. But in October, both the variety and number of gulls increase dramatically. Gulls that nested in Alaska or Canada fly south to spend winter in more temperate climates. Along the West Coast, petite, dove-like Mew Gulls:


STEIN: …which made the Alaskan tundra their summer home, now mix with the locals. In the East, millions of Herring Gulls:


STEIN: And, small numbers of Iceland Gulls spread out along the coast.


STEIN: In fact, 15 or more gull species regularly turn up in total along our coasts, making October and late fall an ideal time to learn to identify gulls.


GELLERMAN: That's BirdNote®’s Michael Stein. For some photos, flap on over to our website - LOE dot ORG.



Gull Identification Tips

Bird audio provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Glaucous-winged Gull variety of calls recorded by A.A. Allen. Mew Gull calls recorded by W.W.H. Gunn. Herring Gull calls recorded by Martha Fischer.

BirdNote® Gull Identification was written by Bob Sundstrom.


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