Thursday, March 24, 2016

Black-headed Gull

Rare Gull Arrives

Black-headed Gull [Nelson Poirier Photo]
 A field trip on Saturday with the Sussex Nature Club brought a rare gull along with a wonderful array of waterfowl.  Shown above is a first-winter Black-headed Gull. This bird was seen briefly on Saturday and more thoroughly on Sunday at the Hampton Sewage Lagoon.  It takes two years for this gull to reach maturity so the individual seen is a juvenile.  This is evident by the brown feathers seen mixed in with the gray mantle (back) and in flight it shows its black tail band.

The Black-headed Gull is a small gull, a little smaller than a Ring-billed Gull.  Though a little larger than the Bonaparte's Gull, it looks similar.  In this geographical area we have to distinguish the Black-headed from the Bonaparte's Gull.  The Black-headed has a larger bill which shows dark red at the base (Bonaparte's bill is all black); the legs on the 1st-winter birds are orange compared to the pink legs on a 1st-winter Bonaparte's; the underwing of the Black-headed shows more extensive black on the primary feathers than the Bonaparte's; the legs on the adult Black-headed are a deeper orange-red.  If the two birds are side-by-side, differentiation is easy.  But seeing a single bird requires a close look.

Black-headed Gull Adult Nonbreeding Plumage
The Black-headed Gull is a holarctic species, occurring in northern latitudes around the world.  In our area it winters sporadically along the coast of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia south to Cape Cod.  It breeds in Greenland and Iceland as well as in Northern Europe.

Black-headed Gulls
This group of Black-headed Gulls was photographed in Newfoundland where a small flock winters around St. John's.  Notice the 1st-winter birds with the brown in their mantles mixed in with the adults with the solid gray mantles.

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