Gulls, Terns & Skimmers

Franklin’s Gull

Look for The Franklin’s gull is a small gull with short wings and a short bill, and a dark hood at all times of year. During breeding season, its entire head is black except for white crescents above and below its eyes. At other times of year, the hood is restricted to the back of… Read more

Bonaparte’s Gull

Bonaparte's Gull, photo by Ken Chan via Wiki Commons.

Look For The Bonaparte’s gull is the smallest gull species commonly found in North America. It has a white tail and underparts and a light gray back. Its wings are also light gray with white on the outer edges and black tips on its primaries. During the breeding season, the Bonaparte’s gull has a white… Read more

Royal Tern

Royal tern

Look For The large (18 to 21 inches long) and striking royal tern is easily recognized by its size, white body, pale gray wings, crested black cap, and orange bill. The only bird it may be confused with is the even larger Caspian tern, but that bird has a blood-red bill and no visible crest… Read more

Forster’s Tern

Forster's Tern (Photo: Dick Daniels/Wikimedia)

Perhaps the best field mark for identifying Forster’s tern is its silvery white upperwing highlights. It can take a few seconds of watching and at least reasonably favorable light for you to pick up the contrast of bright silvery primaries against the pale gray of much of the rest of the wing, but once you see… Read more

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern (Photo by Kyle Carlsen)

What to Look and Listen For The gull-sized Caspian tern is no wallflower, and as befits its character, the bird is not shy about shouting out to the world. Around water bodies, listen for a harsh croaking yip a bit reminiscent of an upset terrier, sometimes stretched to a longer, drawn-out jee-arrrr!. Melodic these are not… Read more

Common Tern

Common Tern (Photo: Wikimedia Creative Commons)

The common tern is medium gray above, with a black cap and nape, and paler below. Most common terns for the majority of the year have a dark wedge or spike running from the tips of the outer primaries (the “fingertips”) toward the “wrist.” It is not extensive, running less than half the width of… Read more

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer (Photo by Dick Daniels/Wikimedia)

Look For One of our most distinctive birds, the black skimmer is named for its method of foraging—its elongated lower bill (mandible) plows lightly through the water, feeling for small fish. The skimmer’s very long body and bill make its shape easy to pick out in a flock of resting gulls and terns. Listen For… Read more

Western Gull

Western gull photo by Dick Daniels / Wikimedia Commons.

Look For The western gull is the only common large dark-backed gull in its range. The heavy yellow bill stands out. Adult has a dark gray back and pink legs. First-year birds are all dark brown, becoming more cleanly marked as they reach breeding age in the fourth year. Listen For Low, hoarse calls that… Read more

Herring Gull

Herring gull photo by Andreas Trepte / Wikimedia

Look For Our most common large gull continent-wide, the herring gull is heavy bodied and heavy billed. In summer adult plumage, the head is clean white, the bill is yellow with a red spot, and the legs are pinkish. Winter adults have “dirty” heads. Listen For Call is similar to other common gulls but a… Read more

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