How to Identify Gulls

Black, white, gray... how do you sort them all out?

This story comes to you through a partnership between Audubon and BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.

Written by Bob Sundstrom 
As the seasons change, different birds catch our eye. Where spring brought the swoop of swallows, late fall or early winter poses the puzzle of identifying gulls.
The challenge of learning which gull is which brings to mind the Sunday crossword puzzle. Completing it entails more clues, more cleverness, and more time than needed for the weekday version, but feels so rewarding.
For identifying gulls, we recommend a good bird book, binoculars, and perhaps a thermos of hot coffee. And you may want to bring along a chair. 
This time of year, gulls wear fresh plumage. Start by looking only at adult gulls – the ones showing fully gray or black backs and white underparts.
To figure out a gull’s ID, first gauge whether it’s bigger or smaller than gulls near it. Then check its leg color. Pink or yellow? You’re more than halfway home already. To clinch the ID, focus on the wing-tips, bill shape, and whether it’s light or dark gray.
Gulls are present in greater variety in mid-autumn, posing an ample puzzle for inquisitive minds. But, as Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” 
Visit your local lake or shore and see how many gulls you can identify! For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.
Bird audio provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Purple Martin's song 8091 recorded by C.A. Sutherland.  Glaucous-winged Gull calls [3350-2] recorded by A.A. Allen.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2013 Tune In to    November 2013   Narrator: Michael Stein
ID# 110707gullid2KPLU       gull-06b              
An especially good source on how to approach gull identification is: Kaufman, Kenn.
Advanced Birding. Chapter 14, p. 102-108 “The Basics of Learning the Gulls.” Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1990.
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