Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla)

The laughing gull is well named- its characteristic call is a loud ‘ha-ha-ha-hah-ha-haah-haah!’

Description

The laughing gull is a small gull, measuring 40-43 cm in length- slightly smaller than a crow. Its body, neck, rump and tail are white. It has dark grey wings with black tips, a dark grey back, and a black head. It can be distinguished from other similar gulls by its dark red bill and feet, and by the trailing edges of its wings, which are white. In the winter, adult gulls have white faces and dingy grey heads, and dark grey-black bills. Juvenile gulls in their first and second seasons are more difficult to identify, but still show a characteristic combination of dark upper parts, a white rump and a white area on the rear edge of their wings.

Distribution

The laughing gull breeds in a few isolated colonies along the coast of Nova Scotia, and at other locations along the Atlantic coast, reaching as far south as northern Venezuela. It winters on the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to northern South America, and on the Pacific coast from southern Mexico to Ecuador.

Ecology

Laughing gulls inhabit open grassy, sandy or muddy areas along the Atlantic coast. Their diet is composed primarily of aquatic invertebrates, but they also eat insects, small fish, garbage and, occasionally, the eggs and young of other birds. These gulls feed mainly by picking food off the ground, but also dive from the air to catch organisms swimming near the water’s surface, and occasionally pursue other seabirds in order to steal their food. Their eggs and young are preyed upon by herring gulls, which often compete for nest sites within established colonies of laughing gulls. These large colonies are usually located in sandy or marshy areas, often near river mouths or around dunes, where the birds can conceal their nests among patches of tall grass, shrubs or other vegetation.

In the breeding season, males display to potential mates by tossing their heads, uttering long calls, and crooning. Laughing gulls form monogamous pairs, which stay together to share the duties of building a nest and raising young. The ground nests consist of saucers woven from grass, twigs and other debris. The female lays 2-4 olive-brown, spotted eggs, which are incubated for 20 days.