|Conservation status||Numbers declined sharply during 19th century when hunted for eggs and feathers. With protection, has increased greatly during 20th century, expanding breeding range far to the south along Atlantic Coast.|
|Family||Gulls and Terns|
|Habitat||Ocean coasts, bays, beaches, lakes, piers, farmlands, dumps. Wide variety of habitats, typically associated with water. Most numerous along coast and around large lakes, also along major river systems. Forages at sea, on beaches, mudflats, plowed fields, marshes, or where human activity provides food (garbage dumps, picnic grounds, docks, fishing operations). Nests on islands, sometimes on gravel roofs.|
Opportunistic. Forages while walking, swimming, or flying, dipping down to take items from surface of water or land, sometimes plunge-diving into water. May steal food from other birds. May carry hard-shelled items (such as crabs, mollusks) high in air and drop them on rocks to break them open.
3, sometimes 1-2, rarely 4. Buff to olive, blotched with black, brown, dark olive. Incubation is by both sexes, 27-30 days. Young: May leave nest a day or two after hatching, remain in immediate area. Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young capable of flight 45-50 days after hatching, may be fed by parents for another month.
May leave nest a day or two after hatching, remain in immediate area. Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young capable of flight 45-50 days after hatching, may be fed by parents for another month.
Omnivorous. Diet varies with place and season, includes fish, crustaceans, mollusks, sea urchins, marine worms, birds, eggs, insects. Scavenges refuse and carrion. At sea, may feed on schools of fish driven to surface by foraging whales.
Usually first breeds at age of 4-5 years. Nests in colonies (often with other species of gulls), sometimes in isolated pairs. In courtship, female approaches male with hunched posture and begging calls; male displays with upright posture, "choking" motions; feeds female. Nest site on ground, next to object such as shrub or rock which protects from prevailing wind. Nest (built by both sexes) is shallow scrape, usually lined with grass, feathers, debris.
Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds
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Present year-round as far north as New England, Great Lakes, southern Alaska. Some move south as far as Mexico, a few to West Indies and Panama. Young birds tend to migrate farther south in winter than adults.
- 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 CallsLoud rollicking call, kuk-kuk-kuk, yucca-yucca-yucca, and other raucous cries.
Learn more about this sound collection.