Common Gull (Larus canus canus) in New York

Here are some pictures of a first-winter Common Gull (Larus canus canus) taken at Shinnecock Inlet, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York. The pictures were taken between 7 and 9 a.m. on Sunday 28th February 1999, under heavily overcast conditions and light rain.

The bird was first seen from the otherside of Shinnecock Inlet by Tom Burke at the end of January 1999. At the time, it was too distant to be firmly identified. The bird was relocated the following weekend by Tony Lauro and Pat Lindsay who were able to study it at close range, as it fed along the surf line. Unfortunately for them, it remained extremely active and did not land. It was not possible at this stage to rule out an extremely aberrant Ring-billed Gull. Tony Lauro saw the bird again on Sunday 21 Feb, and was able to watch it on the ground for extended periods. These views convinced Tony that this was indeed a Common Gull. John Fritz and Joan Quinlan studied the bird for several hours on Friday 26 Feb and likewise identified it as a Common Gull.

Late on Saturday 27 Feb, Andy Guthrie and I joined Tony Lauro at the inlet to look for the bird. We evenutally saw the bird after waitng some twenty minutes. It came westwards along the beach, flew briefly around the east jetty and then settled on the ocean with two adult Ring-billed Gulls, where it remained, presumably to roost for the night. Excited by our brief views, we returned at dawn the following morning. The gull was already there foraging along the sandy beach. In the next three hours, we were able to get good looks as well as a many photographs. Periodically, it would take flight, heading westward along the beach and then circling over the ocean presumably searching for food.

Figure 1. Side portrait. The head is small and rounded, lacking the sloping forehead of most Ring-billed Gulls. The head itself is very pale, except for some diffuse streaking above the eye that extends onto the crown. The dark eye is accentuated by dark smudging above it and below it. This feature combined with relatively small head, creates a 'large eye' look. The flanks show a few smudges or spots, lacking obvious cresent shapes of most Ring-billed Gulls. The bill is shallow lacks a sharp gonydeal angle and its tip is all dark. The bill base is flesh with a hint of gray. In most Ring-billed Gulls of this age, the bill is much deeper (top to bottom), has a pinker base and usually has a pale spot on the end of the black tip.

Figure 2. Walking away from the camera. Notice the strong dark collar (or better shawl?) effect. The upper scapulars are still molting. A significant number of brown juvenile scapulars remain. Note the shape of the solid dark centers to median coverts. The greater coverts have molted and are most gray except for the rearmost (inner coverts) which have narrow dark centers.

Figure 3. Slightly out of focus and over-exposed view of the very distinctive tail pattern. The nearest (outermost) tail feather is all white without any marbling.

Figure 4. In flight, showing uppersurface of the wings and mantle. Outer primaries and primary coverts very dark brown. Inner primaries are gray with dark 'drops' near the tips. These tend to be larger in Ring-billed Gull. The secondary bar is dark. Subdued and relatively ill-defined brown carpal bar. Pale gray hindneck separated from mantle by an dark collar. Overall less contrast across the wing than typical for Ring-billed Gull.

Figure 5. Another view of the subterminal tail band, white bases to the tail feathers and immaculate white upper tail coverts.

Figure 6. View of flanks and underwing. The underwing coverts were off-white with crisp dark edging. Some brown mottling on the underwing coverts, more typical of juvenile plumage, remains.

Figure 7. Flying away. Clearly showing the long wings, 'large' eye and small bill.

You can find additional images of Common Gulls on: Martin Reid's excellent gull site

Photographs and page layout copyright ofAngus Wilson© 1999 All rights reserved.

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