Photo: Philip Sidran/Audubon Photography Awards

Laughing Gull

Leucophaeus atricilla

The strident laughing calls of this well-named gull are among the most characteristic sounds around tidewater along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, especially in summer. It seems to be mostly a warm-weather bird, with the majority departing from Atlantic coastal areas north of Florida in winter. Its nesting colonies are localized but often large, sometimes with thousands of nests.
Conservation status Numbers were seriously depleted during 19th century by hunting for feather trade, recovered well in early 20th century, then some decline at northern colonies owing to competition with larger gulls. Currently some colonies face threats, but overall population abundant and widespread.
Family Gulls and Terns
Habitat Salt marshes, coastal bays, piers, beaches, ocean. Generally found only in coastal regions, especially common around beaches and salt marshes, but also ranging several miles inland to rivers, fields, dumps. Found well inland in Florida and at Salton Sea, California. Nests on beaches and dredge spoil islands among grass and bushes.
The strident laughing calls of this well-named gull are among the most characteristic sounds around tidewater along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, especially in summer. It seems to be mostly a warm-weather bird, with the majority departing from Atlantic coastal areas north of Florida in winter. Its nesting colonies are localized but often large, sometimes with thousands of nests.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • juvenile
  • immature (1st year)
  • immature (2nd year)
  • adult, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages while walking, wading, or swimming, or may forage in flight by plunging into water or dipping to surface. May steal food from Brown Pelican, landing on pelican's head and snatching fish from larger bird's bill pouch.


Eggs

3, sometimes 2-4. Olive to buff or brown, blotched with brown. Incubation is by both sexes, about 20 days. Young: Remain in nest for a few days after hatching, then wander nearby, hiding under vegetation. Both parents feed young, giving them half-digested food at first, solid food later. Age at first flight about 5 weeks.


Young

Remain in nest for a few days after hatching, then wander nearby, hiding under vegetation. Both parents feed young, giving them half-digested food at first, solid food later. Age at first flight about 5 weeks.

Diet

Includes crustaceans, insects, fish. Diet varies with location and season. Eats many small fish, crustaceans, and insects, also earthworms, snails, refuse. In late spring, gathers to eat eggs of horseshoe crabs. Also eats eggs and sometimes young of other birds, especially Royal Terns.


Nesting

Breeds in colonies, sometimes with thousands of nests; sometimes associated with other species of gulls or terns. Nest site is on ground among grass or bushes. In more southerly areas, may be among denser growth, under shrubs or vines, perhaps for protection from sun. Nest (built by both sexes) may be a scrape in ground with sparse lining, or may be shallow cup of grass, sticks, debris, lined with finer grass. Adults may continue adding to nest during incubation.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Withdraws in winter from northern areas, with many migrating as far as northern South America. Rarely straggles far inland.

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Migration

Withdraws in winter from northern areas, with many migrating as far as northern South America. Rarely straggles far inland.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Loud, high-pitched ha-ha-ha-ha-haah-haah-haah-haah-haah.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Gulls and Terns Gull-like Birds

Laughing Gull

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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