Boreal Birds
300+ species, billions of birds rely on Canada's boreal forest as critical breeding grounds
© Dick Daniels/Wikipedia Commons (CC 3.0)

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte's Gull
Larus philadelphia
Gull-like Birds | Family: Gulls and Terns, Laridae

An estimated 95% of the global population of Bonaparte's Gull breeds in wetlands within the boreal forest region of Canada and Alaska. 

 

Overview

Because they breed in the Far North, these beautiful gulls are most often seen on lakes and rivers during migration or along the coast in winter. The species winters along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the U.S. and northern Mexico. Large concentrations (sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands) occur in a number of places in late fall and early winter including the Bay of Fundy, the Niagara River, Cleveland, Ohio area, and San Francisco Bay. They keep to themselves, seldom joining the larger gulls at dumps. They feed in tidal inlets and at sewage outlets, picking scraps of food from the water. During spring migration, they may often be seen flying northward along large rivers such as the Hudson and the Mississippi. Bonaparte's Gull is the only gull species that regularly and virtually exclusively nests in trees. Its nests are built in coniferous trees along the edges of lakes, ponds, muskeg, and marshes. The species is named after a nephew of Napoleon, Charles Lucien Bonaparte, who was a leading ornithologist in the 1800s in America and Europe. Loss and degradation of wetlands to human activity including hydropower development and from acid rain are probably the most serious factors affecting Bonaparte's Gull populations.

Description

12-14" (30-36 cm). A small delicate gull, silvery gray above, with conspicuous white, wedge-shaped patches on leading edge of outer wing. Head black in breeding adults, white in winter with dark spot behind eye. Bill black. Young birds have dark markings on upper surface of wing and black tail band. Common Black-headed Gull similar but larger, with red bill and dark wing linings.

Voice

Rasping tee-ar; soft, nasal snarling note.

Nesting

2-4 olive or buff, spotted eggs in a well-made cup of grass, moss, and twigs placed in a spruce or fir tree near a lake or river.

Habitat

Forested lakes and rivers; winters along coasts, in estuaries, and at mouths of large rivers.

Range/Migration

Breeds in Alaska and interior northwestern Canada east to James Bay. Winters along both coasts, on Pacific from Washington southward, on Atlantic from southern New England southward.