This week’s photo, taken June 26, 2015 from the Edmond’s Pier in Edmonds, WA, features an adult RING-BILLED GULL in breeding plumage.
Gee, it can’t be that difficult to identify gulls, can it? After all, the gull in the photo above has a ring on its bill, so it must be a RING-BILLED GULL, right? Wow, that sure was easy.
Well, don’t think for a moment that gull identification is a snap. Several gulls have rings on their bills during certain stages of development.
To identify gulls, look for as many notable features as possible. Yes, the gull in the photo has a ringed bill, but that fact alone doesn’t always determine the species. The gull above also has mostly black wingtips, a light gray mantle (the center of its back), a rather small bill, a red gape (looks like a frown extending back from the bill), a light-colored eye, and a red eye ring. All of those details, taken together, help us conclude that it is indeed a Ring-billed Gull.
My best advice: take photos of gulls (as well as other birds), and then attempt to determine the exact species later while you sit in your cushy desk chair and study your photos on your computer.
Subadult gulls can be notoriously tough to figure out. Many of them begin life as various combinations of mostly grays and browns, and many have black bills. Many juveniles of different species tend to look alike, and many gulls won’t display the distinctive markings of adults until 3 or 4 years have passed.
Therefore, one more bit of advice. When you begin your quest to identify gulls, focus mainly on adult gulls. Even then, be patient, and good luck.
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