Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ring-billed Gull, Larus delawarensis

Ring-billed gulls that I saw on a walk by the East River in Brooklyn, New York, yesterday.

Ring-billed gulls are often called sea gulls, but they are can be found far from the sea. They spend the winter along both coasts and pretty much throughout the interior of the United States (and in Central America and the Caribbean), where they are found near rivers and lakes.

They are famously unafraid of civilization and actually kind of like it; they feed at trash dumps and loaf in parking lots while waiting for restaurant dumpsters to fill up. Not surprisingly, they have acquired some unflattering nicknames like trash gulls, landfill larids (for the genus Larus), and fast food gulls. They are good scavengers and they are not too picky about what they will eat. Their menu includes insects, rodents, worms, fish, garbage and any delicious thing one might find on the sidewalk.

A ring-billed gull shares a slice of pizza with some pigeons. 

The ring-billed gull is about 16 inches long and has a wing span of about four feet. Its has a black ring near the tip of its yellow bill. In adults, the back feathers are light gray and the wings are tipped in black with white spots. Gulls change their plumage as they grow from juveniles to adults (three years for ring-billed gulls) and from summer to winter. Luckily the birds are gregarious and in a group most will be old enough to have the diagnostic ringed bill, yellow legs, and yellow eyes. Juveniles are streaked and mottled all over with a dark-tipped bill and pinkish legs. When not in their summer breeding plumage, adults have gray streaks on their white heads.

A ring-billed gull in winter plumage poses with the Empire State Building and the Manhattan Bridge.
I am happy to find ring-billed gulls by the river even on the coldest days of winter.

P.S. I am getting emails from many people who have just received my book through online orders from Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Stackpole Books. Thanks to all of you who have sent me nice comments! JF

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