Every ride or walk on our ocean beaches is different. One day it is shorebirds, and on another it is raptors such as bald eagles and peregrine falcons, but today it was gulls! Glaucous-winged and Heermann’s gulls were the most numerous, but there were also California gulls and western gulls. I am sure there were numerous hybrids (glaucous-winged with westerns) as well, and of course the harder to identify sub-adults.
The glaucous-winged gull is the largest of the gulls with a wingspan of just under five feet and a length of just over two feet. The breeding adult has a pale look overall with a large white head and a light gray mantle. It also sports wing tips that are gray with white spots, pink legs, and a yellow bill with a red spot on the lower mandible.
The western gull is the next largest of the four species, being just a tad shorter than the glaucous-winged, but with the same sized wing span. This large gull in adult breeding plumage has a dark gray mantle, black wingtips each with a single white spot, pink legs, and a thick-tipped yellow bill with a red spot on the lower mandible. This is strictly a western species and ranges from British Columbia, Canada to Baja California.
The smallest of the gull on the beach today is the Heermann’s gull. It is about one and a half feet in length with a wingspan of just over 4 feet. It is a dark gull overall and takes about four years to become a breeding adult. The adult has a gray body and white head. It has black wing tips, black legs and a red bill with a black tip. The photos accompanying this article show just how the juvenile Heermann’s appear. They are dark overall or a sooty brown in color.
The California gull is a little longer than the Heermann’s and has a wingspan of four and a half feet. The California is mainly white and gray. The head, breast and belly are white, the mantle is gray, the legs are greenish yellow in color, and its bill is yellow with a black and a red spot. Its wings have black tips with small white splotches near the ends.
The Heermann’s gull is a fall migrant to our area, but the other three gulls can be seen all year round. If you get out on the beach now you may be lucky enough to see the Heermann’s gull. They often stay on until late in the fall.
Think about taking a walk or a drive on our ocean beaches. I always find it to be an adventure. Shorebirds are still on the move and raptors increase in numbers daily, it seems. New things are happening every day. The birds move with the food source so they may not be in the same place day after day. The gulls often rest in large flocks especially at beach approaches, where well-meaning people provide handouts. It is of course not a good thing to do! Bread and people snacks are not nourishing for gulls.
It is time … the beach is calling and so are the birds.