|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.|
Forages by walking or wading on ground, by swimming, or by catching insects in flight.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds
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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
See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.Learn more
Songs and CallsA strident ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, similar to Laughing Gull's but higher pitched.
Learn more about this sound collection.