Laughing Gull – Leucophaeus Atricilla
Length: 16.5″; Wingspan: 40″; Weight: 11 oz.
Swirling over beaches with strident calls and a distinctive, crisp black head, Laughing Gulls provide sights and sounds evocative of summer on Seabrook Island. You’ll run across this handsome gull in large numbers at beaches, docks, and parking lots, where they wait for handouts or fill the air with their raucous (ha-ha-ha-ha-haah-haah-haah-haah-haah) calls.
Laughing Gulls are medium-sized gulls with fairly long wings and long legs that impart a graceful look when they are flying or walking. They have stout, fairly long bills. Laughing Gulls are medium gray above and white below. Summer adults have a crisp black hood, white arcs around the eye, and a reddish bill. In winter, the hood becomes a blurry gray mask on a white head. The legs are reddish black to black. Immature Laughing Gulls are much browner and more subtly patterned than adults; they take 2-3 years to gain adult plumage.
Like most gulls, Laughing Gulls have very broad palates. They eat many invertebrates, including earthworms, insects (including flying ones), snails, crabs, and crab eggs, as well as fish, squid, berries, garbage, offal, and handouts from beachgoers. They occasionally eat eggs of other birds (though not as frequently as larger gulls do). They often congregate in parking lots, sandy beaches, and mud bars. Listen for their nasal, strident calls in flight, while feeding, and at rest. Laughing Gulls are a coastal species and are only occasionally seen very far inland.
Laughing Gull numbers were seriously depleted during the 19th century by hunting for feather trade. They recovered well in the early 20th century, then faced some decline at northern colonies owing to competition with larger gulls. Currently some colonies face threats, but overall, the population is abundant and widespread.
They have a slow flight with deep wing beats. Because of their opportunistic feeding, many people associate them most with their begging behavior.
These gulls are monogamous, and pairs often stay together for several breeding seasons. They breed in colonies, sometimes with thousands of nests; sometimes associated with other species of gulls or terns. Nest site is on the ground among grass or bushes. Nests may be among denser growth, under shrubs or vines, perhaps for protection from sun. The nest (built by both sexes) may be a scrape in ground with sparse lining, or may be shallow cup of grass, sticks, debris, lined with finer grass. Nests usually contain 3 olive-brown eggs with dark blotches. Adults may continue adding to nest during incubation. They nest, often in large numbers, on islands near the shore but safely isolated from terrestrial predators making Deveaux Bank a large nesting area.
A group of gulls has many collective nouns, including a “flotilla”, “gullery”, “screech”, “scavenging”, and “squabble” of gulls.
Laughing gulls can be seen all over Seabrook Island but especially along our beaches and begging for food at Pelican Nest Restaurant. Although they are common sight in summer, they are an unusual sight in winter.
(See the range map following the photographs below.)
If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology – All About Bird: Laughing Gull
- Whatbird – Field Guide to birds of North America: Laughing Gull
Article submitted by: Judy Morr
Photographs provided by: Ed Konrad
This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents. When possible we will use photographs taken by our members. Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.