Thursday, August 11, 2011

western gull ~ 08/11/11 ~ Wharf No. 2

This is my first serious attempt at identifying gulls. I stopped calling them sea gulls ever since I saw them in Ohio far away from any sea. Please ID the second picture above or correct me if I misidentified the other gulls. Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Gulls have been on my brain and my roof for the past few months. We had a nest over our kitchen with the noise echoing down our range hood vent. I can only assume they were western gulls. Not only were the juveniles extremely noisy calling for food at all hours of the day and night, they also seemed to like to wrestle around. I swear sometimes it sounded like an elephant was doing a jig up there. Plus, in the past few weeks we've noticed a huge number of dead gulls on the city streets. Most looked like juveniles who must not have known better than to get out of the way of a large object speeding towards them.

ps 08/23/11 - This post originally contained 4 pictures. I split this up into two posts now that I know the identifications: western gull and Heermann's gull. Make sure to check out the embedded links in the IDs under each photo.

I was thoroughly confused by the second picture above and simply labeled it as an unidentified gull. Gulls seem to go through an extraordinary number of variations to reach adult breeding plumage. It takes western gulls four years! Even though written descriptions for a couple other species seemed to match, I could not find pictorial evidence with grey wings, dusty grey face, odd bill markings, and bright pink legs like that shown above.

So, I asked Don Roberson, author of Monterey Birds, to help me with the ID. Here's what he said, "your second gull is a Western Gull in 3rd cycle plumage [e.g., thin ring-around-the-bill, a bit of duskiness on head]." Additionally, he continued in reply to Jim's and my comments below, "As to possible hybrid on the 3rd cycle bird, I don't see any obvious signs of it, but the date you took the photo would be important. We get lots of hybrid or intergrade Glaucous-wing X Western here in winter, and the date span is about early September to early May. We don't have a confirmed hybrid-type from summer, but it would be possible. But I don't see any signs of hybridization or intergradation here (hybrids are when Western breeds with Gl-wing; intergrades are when hybrids breed with other hybrids and there is gene flow... complex subject). As you probably know, there is a variation of color in the back of Western Gulls north to south, with southern birds being darker. I would guess that the 3rd cycle bird is not from the local breeding population, based on back color, but it could easily have come from the Farallones." Thank you, Don!

Steve Borichevsky at Shooting My Universe from Massachusetts visits the Monterey area frequently. He has a nice series of blog posts on the western gull.


Jim Johnson said...

I'd call that second one a Western Gull too, but it may have some Glaucous-winged Gull blood in it as well. It isn't quite fully mature (in its third year), and that's why there's some dark smudging on the bill and the head isn't clean white. The hybrids and all manner of backcrosses of those two species are abundant in my area and I presume they get down to your area.

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Hi Jim. It is a western gull. I asked a local expert and edited the above post. I'm not sure if we get the hybrids down here.