Adult nonbreeding. Note: redish bill and legs.
  • Adult nonbreeding. Note: redish bill and legs.
  • Adult nonbreeding. Note: redish bill and legs and dark under primaries.

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Black-headed Gull

Larus ridibundus
This is a large and highly varied group of birds that do not have many outward similarities. Most are water birds that feed on invertebrates or small aquatic creatures. The order is well represented in Washington, with seven families:
The family Laridae is made up of birds closely associated with water. Distributed throughout the world, representatives of this family nest on every continent, including Antarctica. Most are long-lived birds, many of which do not breed until they are three or four years old. Most are colony nesters and nest on the ground. Clutch size is generally small, varying from one to four eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs and help feed the young. The young typically hatch covered with down and stay in the nest for a few days, after which they leave the nest but stay nearby. Most, especially in Washington, raise a single brood a year. This group is known for its elaborate displays in the air and on the ground.

The Washington representatives of this family can be split into two groups, or subfamilies. The adaptable gulls are the most familiar. Sociable in all seasons, they are mainly coastal, but a number of species also nest inland. Many—but not all—are found around people. Gulls have highly variable foraging techniques and diets. Terns forage in flight, swooping to catch fish or insects. They dive headfirst into the water for fish. Although they are likely to be near water, they spend less time swimming than gulls.

    General Description

    A widespread Eurasian resident, the Black-headed Gull has increased in numbers and extended its range during the last century. It now winters regularly in small numbers, and has bred, in Atlantic Canada and the northeastern United States. Elsewhere in North America it is a rare visitor, mostly along the coasts. Of the commonly seen gulls in Washington, Black-headed most closely resembles Bonaparte’s but is significantly larger with a longer, heavier red (not black) bill. In flight, the upperwing shows a white wedge, similar to Bonaparte’s, but the dark primaries visible on the underwing are a distinctive field mark. The adult in breeding plumage has a dark brown hood, red legs, and a pale gray mantle. In winter the head is white with a prominent dark spot behind the eye. Black-headed Gull and Bonaparte’s Gull both attain full adult plumage in two years; see field guides for the immature plumages.

    In Washington, Black-headed Gull is a casual fall migrant and winter resident on and near marine waters. The 12 accepted records range in date from mid-August to early April with a strong peak in early fall. British Columbia has more than a dozen records, the majority of them from the Greater Victoria area. Oregon has three records, California more than 20.

    Revised June 2007

    Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List

    View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern