Ring-billed Gull

Hey guys, welcome back! Today we look at the ever popular Seagull! Wait… what’s that? What do you mean there’s no such thing? Of course there is, everyone has heard of… what? You sure? Huh.

That’s right, gang, there’s no such bird with a species name “seagull.” The term is a sort of blanket term used by laypersons referring to any species of gull, tern, albatross, etc. interchangeably. There are actually over 50 species of gull, and they are found on every continent in the world (yes, including Antarctica!)

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Ring-billed Gull, Gateway Arch National Park, St. Louis, MO

Today’s gull in question is the Ring-billed Gull, one of North America’s most common. The Ring-billed Gull has a fairly straightforward range, breeding in southern and central Canada, and wintering in the southern U.S. and northern Mexico (while also wintering along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the U.S.) As far as ID goes, these guys are actually one of the easier ones. While they have a light grey back and wings with black tips, and white head and belly like most gulls, it’s their namesake ringed bill that gives them away. In winter, adults will show some dusky grey or brown spots on their otherwise snow-white head, and juveniles are mottled brown, grey, and white. Ring-billed Gulls have yellow legs and feet (getting used to looking at a gull’s legs is an important part of gull ID, but more on that next time.) Ring-billed Gulls are medium-sized gulls (about the size of a crow), and are common, so learning their relative size can help you with your gull ID.

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Ring-billed Gull in flight, Ft. Tilden, Rockaway, NY

Ring-billed Gulls can be found in a variety of habitats, frequenting estuaries and coastal areas, such as beaches, but they’ll often also hang out in shopping center parking lots more than other, larger species of gull. Growing up near Cleveland, and thus near Lake Erie, I was used to seeing gulls of all sorts quite often. That didn’t change when I moved to New York City, it is on the Atlantic Ocean, after all. But moving inland to St. Louis, it was kind of weird not having them around. Like, I didn’t really notice their absence until winter hit and I saw some flying over, and landing in, the Mississippi River. It was then that I realized I hadn’t seen a gull in months, since leaving New York. Funny how that goes. It’s easy to notice a bird you haven’t seen in a while, but it’s hard to notice when you first stop seeing them.

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Ring-billed Gull, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, NY

Gulls are often looked at as pests. It’s understandable why. They have adapted well to living very close to humans, and are very opportunistic feeders. Their beaks are suited for a large variety of food, from fish and insects, to grains and worms, to french fries and hamburgers. Garbage often contains a variety of food, and thus attract most gulls. They already lived on beaches, so when we come and have our picnics, they naturally think they’re invited as well! There’s plenty more cool gull facts, but our next two birds are also gulls, so I’m going to spread the gull-fact wealth. See you all next time when we discuss the Ring-billed’s larger cousin, the Herring Gull!

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