Sunday, May 1, 2011

The laughing gulls are back!

According to the Audubon Society's Field Guide to North American Birds, the laughing gull, Larus atricilla, says " Ha-ha-ha-ha-haah-haah-haah-haah-haah." 

Click here to listen to laughing gulls. 

The call is loud and it is easy to imagine that the birds are laughing. In the northeastern United States it is a summer sound; the birds migrate south for the winter. They return like clockwork to the New York City area in April and will stay until autumn.

Laughing gulls are about 16 inches long with a wingspan of about three feet. Males and females look alike: white below, gray backs, white-spotted black wingtips. Adults in breeding season have red bills, black heads, and small white crescents above and below the eyes.

The birds usually stay close to the ocean, along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. They eat crabs and shrimp, fish, insects, berries, and trash. They often follow ferries and trawlers, hovering over the wake. They have adapted to foraging at urban landfills, parking lots, and trash dumpsters. They are famous for stealing food from other birds.

Laughing gulls habitually perch close to tables at those outdoor seafood places on the Jersey shore, watching carefully and hoping for handouts. They are agile fliers and can easily catch food tossed into the air. But if you are not vigilant, a bold laughing gull may hop onto the table and fly away with one of your fried clams. 

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