Bird GuideGulls and TernsFranklin's Gull

At a Glance

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.
Gull-like Birds, Gulls and Terns
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands
California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Hovering, Soaring

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


13-15" (33-38 cm). Adult suggests Laughing Gull but wingtips mostly white, crossed by ragged black bar. Fall immature has cleaner look than young Laughing, with neat dusky scarf on head. Some subadults have black hood, dark wingtips; note smaller bill than Laughing Gull.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Gray, Orange, Red, White
Wing Shape
Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

A strident ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, similar to Laughing Gull's but higher pitched.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat
Call Type
Raucous, Scream


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.



3, sometimes 2, rarely 4. Buff to olive or brown, blotched with brown or black. Incubation is by both sexes, 23-26 days.


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.

Feeding Behavior

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


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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Franklin's Gull. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

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.