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Laughing Gull Larus atricilla


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Laughing Gull breeding plumage
credit: Peter Wallack/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Laridae, Gulls and Terns view all from this family

Description ADULT SUMMER Has dark gray back and upper wings, except for white trailing edge and dark tips to wings. Underwings show contrast between mainly dark flight feathers and white wing coverts. Underparts and neck are white, and note dark hood and white "eyelids." Bill is reddish. ADULT WINTER Similar, but dark hood is lost except for dark streaking on nape; bill is dark. JUVENILE Mainly brown, but molts to first-winter plumage in fall: gray back, gray and brown inner upper wing coverts, and dark outer wing and flight feathers. Plumage is otherwise mainly grubby white, with dark tail band and streaked and gray breast and neck (striking on nape). Bill is dark.

Dimensions Length: 15-17" (38-43 cm)

Habitat Breeds on rocky coasts and mainly coastal in winter.

Observation Tips Easy to see on most coasts.

Range Eastern Canada, California, New England, Florida, Rocky Mountains, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Plains, Great Lakes, Texas

Voice Utters laughing, gull-like calls.

Similar Species Franklin's Gull Larus pipixcan (L 14-15 in) is daintier than Laughing; bill straight (slightly downcurved in Laughing). Adult has pattern of white-black-white on wingtips (uniformly black in Laughing). In summer, note black hood and pink-flushed white underparts. Compared to Laughing, winter adult retains more extensive dark markings on head; first-winter has narrower dark tail band. Breeds on prairie ponds; migrates in flocks to coasts of South America for winter.

Discussion Medium-sized gull, with relatively long wings (extend well beyond tail at rest). Alert birds look long-necked, and note dark red legs and rather long and slightly downcurved, reddish bill. Bold and opportunistic feeder in many areas. Sexes are similar.