Thursday, February 3, 2011

Glaucous Gull, Herring Gull

Many folks throw up their arms in aggravation or even hang their heads in apathy when it comes to identifying gulls. Many of our gulls are “four year” gulls, every year, or cycle can have different plumages during the year. To make matters worse, there are cross breading amongst some species. What a rats nest!

These are two distinctive different gulls, the third cycle winter Herring Gull in the foreground and the Second cycle winter Glaucous Gull in the background. Easy Peasy.

©2011 ShootingMyUniverse

If you find gulls confusing, then here is the tip of the day. Become very familiar with one gull. And that one gull will become a stable datum to which you can compare all other gulls. I recommend the Herring Gull, which is a very common gull in the northern hemisphere. But you got to look at this gull year round. If you do this, you will get to know its size, color, bill colors, and plumages. Then any other gull can be compared against this stable datum (the Herring Gull) and it will help you figure out what you have.

If you take the time to look at the gulls in your area every day, you will start to recognize the patterns as they are expressed from season to season. Also, you will recognize the size and flight habits of the local gulls. This way, you will be able to spot a strange gull by size, flight pattern or in this case, lack of black wing tips and you will then be able to get a handle on the less common gulls in the area.

When I was younger and less gray, I used to bird out west. I was not so quick with the gulls. However now when I go back, I can spot a gull and with very little effort distinguish California Gulls and Western Gulls without much fuss, much easier then in my “power birding” days when I would only attempt to call adult gulls.

But don’t despair, even the “experts” make mistakes. I had a comment come in by a “gull expert” pointing out an potential error in one of my posts. However, I had the luxury of seeing the juvenile getting fed by an adult which makes it difficult to dispute, so the expert’s comment was in fact in error. It isn’t that I’m so smart, I’m just saying relax, you may make a mistake. So what? The universe isn’t going to implode if you do. And if you get flack from someone for making a gull misidentification, then find someone more pleasant to bird with.

Oh, and I’ve yet to find a field guide that has all the plumages for all the gulls, which will add to the frustration. When I moved into Gloucester, I bought a copy of Gulls of the Americas by Steve Howell and Jon Dunn. It isn’t a “field guide” per se, but a good reference to have by the computer if you shoot first and ask questions later.

1 comment:

Frank said...

Helpful post Steve. Nice to see a White-winger ... I rarely see one of those but plenty of (European) Herring Gulls.

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