|Conservation status||Numbers were seriously depleted during 19th century by hunting for feather trade, recovered well in early 20th century, then some decline at northern colonies owing to competition with larger gulls. Currently some colonies face threats, but overall population abundant and widespread.|
|Family||Gulls and Terns|
|Habitat||Salt marshes, coastal bays, piers, beaches, ocean. Generally found only in coastal regions, especially common around beaches and salt marshes, but also ranging several miles inland to rivers, fields, dumps. Found well inland in Florida and at Salton Sea, California. Nests on beaches and dredge spoil islands among grass and bushes.|
Forages while walking, wading, or swimming, or may forage in flight by plunging into water or dipping to surface. May steal food from Brown Pelican, landing on pelican's head and snatching fish from larger bird's bill pouch.
3, sometimes 2-4. Olive to buff or brown, blotched with brown. Incubation is by both sexes, about 20 days. Young: Remain in nest for a few days after hatching, then wander nearby, hiding under vegetation. Both parents feed young, giving them half-digested food at first, solid food later. Age at first flight about 5 weeks.
Remain in nest for a few days after hatching, then wander nearby, hiding under vegetation. Both parents feed young, giving them half-digested food at first, solid food later. Age at first flight about 5 weeks.
Includes crustaceans, insects, fish. Diet varies with location and season. Eats many small fish, crustaceans, and insects, also earthworms, snails, refuse. In late spring, gathers to eat eggs of horseshoe crabs. Also eats eggs and sometimes young of other birds, especially Royal Terns.
Breeds in colonies, sometimes with thousands of nests; sometimes associated with other species of gulls or terns. Nest site is on ground among grass or bushes. In more southerly areas, may be among denser growth, under shrubs or vines, perhaps for protection from sun. Nest (built by both sexes) may be a scrape in ground with sparse lining, or may be shallow cup of grass, sticks, debris, lined with finer grass. Adults may continue adding to nest during incubation.
Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds
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Withdraws in winter from northern areas, with many migrating as far as northern South America. Rarely straggles far inland.
- 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, high-pitched ha-ha-ha-ha-haah-haah-haah-haah-haah.
Learn more about this sound collection.