Bird of the day: Ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis)

I spotted gulls on the shore and other waterfowl far out on the lake today. To my surprise, the faraway birds weren’t buffleheads. They were mallards, which I discovered after looking at them through my zoom lens. Shall the buffleheads return for a photo opportunity? Time will tell.

Unlike the ephemeral buffleheads, this ring-billed gull kindly sat a few feet away from me in a perfect pose for a picture. I obliged by taking one.

rign-billed gull (larus delawarensis)
Adult ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis), Madison, Wisconsin, November 6, 2017.

Apparently it’s become popular to think gulls are ugly and to call them “rats of the sky.” Well, I think this one is pretty cute. And patient. It let me point my camera at it and fiddle around with my manual focus for a minute or longer, and it hardly moved at all.

Good gull!

Where do ring-billed gulls get their name?

Ring-billed gulls are called ring-billed gulls because of the black ring around their bill, which they develop after living through their first winter. Their coloring changes from childhood through adulthood, and then in adulthood it shifts again with the seasons. The heads and necks of fully grown adults become bright white during breeding season. But right now their heads are speckled with brown or grey, a color pattern that reminds me of slush-splattered snow.

The bird in this picture is an adult. If it were a juvenile, it would have brown-grey mottling all over its body, and the black mark would be at the tip of its beak, rather than looking like a ring. Maybe I’ll have to go searching for juveniles tomorrow so I can show you the difference.

(If you’d rather not wait, check out the photos on the ring-billed gull page on All About Birds.)

I like how persistent gulls are. I’ve watched a gull work on swallowing a fish half a dozen times before finally getting the whole thing down its gullet. And of course I love that they’re scavengers like me. Humans throw away so many useful things. We should be grateful we’ve got birds like this to help us pick up after ourselves.

Fun fact: Ring-billed gulls make each one of the contiguous forty-eight United States and Puerto Rico their home at one time of the year or another. I call that adaptable.

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