Saturday, August 13, 2011

Laughing Gulls

Gulls in the eastern United States are at their peak diversity in winter when the local breeders are joined by birds from further north, including a few species that breed in or near the Arctic. There is one characteristic gull of summer, though, the Laughing Gull. From May through August, Laughing Gulls are often the most numerous gull species on the shore, particularly along New Jersey's southern coastline, which houses one of the largest breeding colonies of Laughing Gulls on the continent. At the peak of breeding season, their ha-ha-ha-haaaaaaaaaaa-haaaaaaaaaaaaa calls can be deafening.

In spring and early summer, these are among the most attractive gulls, with sleek black hoods, crisp white semicircles around their eyes, and striking red bills. By late summer, the adults have already started to shed their hoods as they molt into their winter (basic) plumage. Their mantles are a mix of fresh and worn feathers, and their bright red bare parts are now muted.

In late summer, Laughing Gull flocks also feature recently-fledged immature birds, given away by the brownish coloration of their mantles and their grayish bodies.

Like other gull species, Laughing Gulls are opportunists. They are not above snatching food from barbecues and beachgoers or robbing the local tern colonies. They also forage for themselves, as I saw this gull doing. It was picking items up out of the surf and eating them. Most of their diet consists of invertebrates, such as insects, crustaceans, and mollusks.