Photo: Rob Curtis/Vireo

Franklin's Gull

Leucophaeus pipixcan

The typical nesting gull of the northern Great Plains, sometimes called "Prairie Dove." Rare on either coast but familiar in the interior, with flocks often seen following plows in farm fields. Locations of nesting colonies shift from year to year with changes in marsh conditions. Nesting colonies may be very large, some running to thousands of pairs. Highly migratory, most Franklin's Gulls spend the winter south of the Equator along the west coast of South America.
Conservation status Because of nesting in large freshwater marshes, local numbers fluctuate with cycles of rainfall and drought. Overall population trend uncertain; thought to have declined sharply in some areas, but stable in others, and has expanded breeding range to new areas in recent decades.
Family Gulls and Terns
Habitat Prairies, inland marshes; in winter, coasts, ocean. Nests on prairie marshes where habitat is extensive and water is fairly deep; forages during summer and migration over agricultural fields, prairie, flooded pasture, marshes, estuaries. In winter mostly along coast, in protected bays, estuaries; sometimes far offshore or on lakes well inland.
The typical nesting gull of the northern Great Plains, sometimes called "Prairie Dove." Rare on either coast but familiar in the interior, with flocks often seen following plows in farm fields. Locations of nesting colonies shift from year to year with changes in marsh conditions. Nesting colonies may be very large, some running to thousands of pairs. Highly migratory, most Franklin's Gulls spend the winter south of the Equator along the west coast of South America.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking or wading on ground, by swimming, or by catching insects in flight.


Eggs

3, sometimes 2, rarely 4. Buff to olive or brown, blotched with brown or black. Incubation is by both sexes, 23-26 days. Young: Both parents feed young and brood them while they are small; one parent remains with young at all times. Young remain in nest at least 20 days, then may swim short distances around nest. Capable of flight at about 35 days, but fed by parents for at least another week.


Young

Both parents feed young and brood them while they are small; one parent remains with young at all times. Young remain in nest at least 20 days, then may swim short distances around nest. Capable of flight at about 35 days, but fed by parents for at least another week.

Diet

Mainly insects, fish. Diet in summer is mostly insects (especially aquatic insects and grasshoppers) and earthworms, also seeds, leeches, snails, crayfish. In some regions, young are fed mostly earthworms. During winter may eat many small fish and crustaceans in addition to insects.


Nesting

Breeds in colonies. In courtship, pairs stand upright and alternately turn heads toward and away from each other; male may feed female. Nest site is in marsh, where water may be several feet deep. Nest (built by both sexes) is large floating mass of bulrushes, cattails, other plant material, often anchored to standing vegetation. Much of nest material is stolen from other nests in colony.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Migrates in flocks. Most go south through Great Plains and along eastern coastal plain of Mexico, crossing to Pacific at Isthmus of Tehuantepec. A few may linger into early winter on southern Great Plains. Strays have reached Europe, Africa, Australia, Japan.

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Migration

Migrates in flocks. Most go south through Great Plains and along eastern coastal plain of Mexico, crossing to Pacific at Isthmus of Tehuantepec. A few may linger into early winter on southern Great Plains. Strays have reached Europe, Africa, Australia, Japan.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A strident ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, similar to Laughing Gull's but higher pitched.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Franklin's Gull

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Franklin's Gull

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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