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Gull Problems

Posted on Apr 7, 2016

High on the list of things I simply do not have time for in the spring is spending hours picking apart a gull identification problem. Even if I did then I would likely leave the gulls to the pros! With that said, I took a little time to see this bird last week. This individual was discovered at Long Beach in Stratford, Connecticut by Patrick Comins, Audubon Connecticut’s Director of Bird Conservation. He thought it could be a first cycle Thayer’s Gull upon initial discovery as it stood out among the Herring Gulls for several reasons. However, this was in putrid light and very windy conditions. Upon further examination, the Thayer’s identification did not work – and we (and others) still have problems calling this just a Herring Gull. These photos were heavily edited for lighting purposes in a back lit situation, but nothing more.

First Cycle Thayer's Gull Long Beach-9394

First Cycle Thayer's Gull Long Beach-9416

First Cycle Thayer's Gull Long Beach-9417

First Cycle Thayer's Gull Long Beach-9418

The shots do not portray how it did not fly or “look” like a Herring Gull in movement and behavior. The size is just a tiny bit off and the bird is rather long-winged. The head and build are a bit smaller than a usual Herring Gull. The coverts are a bit abnormal and the bird is rather pale overall. Parts of the wings have too much or too little contrast, and are either a little too dark or a little too light. In short it is a migrant gull in March that will never have a positive identification. Is it a hybrid of some kind? Has March and molting made a weird individual that really is a Herring Gull? How did Roger Tory Peterson overcome all these kinds of problems and publish his A Field Guide to the Birds in 1934 when so very little was known about hundreds of various bird species in the early 20th century?

My head hurts…

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator