Guess that Gull

I admit that I struggle with identifying gulls. Not only do you have to deal with four years of different plumages, you have to deal with hybrids as well. It can be extremely challenging and there are many opportunities to second guess yourself. In situations like those, sometimes it’s better to simply close your eyes, wait until the gull is gone, and pretend that you never saw it. More likely, you’ll mark it down in that catch-all category of “Gull species.”

Today I was out at Miracle Beach Provincial Park enjoying the freshness of the day and the light rain. There were mostly what looked to be Glaucous-winged Gulls soaring on the wind but on the beach there was a gull that looked a little different. See if you can identify it from the photographs below keeping in mind that with gulls (or any other bird for that matter) a partial look at field marks is often all you get.

Gull Photograph #1
Gull Photograph #1 - the typical view of a gull, showing wingtips and mantle. Hard to make the call with just this image.
Gull Photograph #2
Gull Photograph #2 - fairly good views of the mantle and wingtips, partial view of the head and bill. A few more details to help with the decision.
Gull Photograph #3
Gull Photograph #3 - good views of the mantle, wingtips and back of the head.

Sooo… are you ready to take a guess? Or do you need to see some more images with slightly better field marks?

Gull Photograph #4
Gull Photograph #4 - fairly good views of the wingtips, leg colour, mantle, head and bill. Difficult to make out the eye colour in this photograph.
Gull Photograph #5
Gull Photograph #5 - good view of the mantle, head, wingtips, and bill. The eye of this particular gull is dark - typically it should be a bit lighter which brings the hybrid card into play. However, it may look darker due to the flat light.

If you identified this gull as a Western Gull (Larus occidentalis) I’m 99% certain that you’re right. That’s the conclusion that I came to – according to Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds of Western North America most of the field marks are in place: white, unmarked head (distinctive in winter when gulls aren’t in their breeding plummage), dark grey (in comparison with the lighter Glaucous-winged Gull) back or mantle with dark wingtips, and a heavy, yellow bill. For me, the bill of the Western Gull seems to be a little richer in colour when compared with the Glaucous-winged Gull. The eye colour is the only thing that doesn’t match the field marks exactly. Generally, the Western Gull has a lighter yellow/grey iris than the Glaucous-winged Gull’s light brown but the colour ranges from dark to pale.

That being said, I’d welcome a second opinion from those gull experts out there. Any chance to get a better handle on those complex “common” gulls is appreciated!

4 comments

  1. I’m so sorry. I am just beginning my bird identification journey, and will be of no help to you. Still, I wanted to comment on how much I enjoy your blog, and let you know that I am adding it to my blog list. How delightful that you post so frequently. What a great resource and source of knowledge for me. Thank you!.

  2. Don’t ask me! I struggle to identify our British gulls, without dragging the US varieties into the equation! LOL! But the photographs are beautiful. It’s a challenge to me to get a photo of a bird in flight, and you have some great ones there.

  3. Hi Carol and Jay,
    Thanks for dropping in and for your comments – I’m pretty sure that the gull is a Western Gull but I thought that a gull challenge would be “fun” for birders of any ability. I still struggle with the finer details that separate out very similar (to me) looking species. Thanks for adding me to your blog list Carol, I’ve added you to my birding links!

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