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What is a Laughing Gull?

By S. Ashraf
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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The laughing gull, scientifically named Leucophaeus atricilla, is the largest member of the dark-hooded gull family of birds. A mature laughing gull is about 15-18 inches (38-46 cm) long, with a wingspan of about 36-42 inches (91-107 cm) and a weight of 7-13 ounces (198-368 g). Males and females resemble each other. Laughing gulls have medium-gray wings and backs with a bill that is long and red with a dark tip. The head is completely black, and the neck is totally white, making for a striking appearance.

Geographically, the range of the laughing gull is along the coasts of North and South America. Laughing gulls can be found from Nova Scotia, southward along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States through the Caribbean coasts of Mexico and northern South America. Populations of the laughing gull from the northernmost parts of its range migrate south during the winter, and those living in the southern regions tend to be permanent residents. Laughing gulls occasionally have been seen in western Europe.

Coastal regions are the primary habitat of the laughing gull. It is seldom encountered in inland locations except around the Salton Sea in California and in Florida. Laughing gulls can be found near beaches and salt marshes. These birds like to live around estuaries, bays and even some lakes that are not too far inland.

Like most gulls, the laughing gull is an omnivore. Its diet is made up mostly from small fish, earthworms, insects, eggs and crustaceans, but it will eat plant material such as berries too. Viewed as something of a scavenger, the laughing gull frequents landfill areas and will eat garbage. This bird is particularly known for stealing food from other birds. A laughing gull will land on the head of a pelican and steal fish directly from its large bill.

Laughing gulls form large, dense breeding colonies of sometimes thousands of birds. Most often, males and females build their nest together, but a male that is unsuccessful at finding a mate might start building a nest on his own and then use it to attract a mate. Nests are built on the ground and usually are constructed with weeds and grasses.

Females lay two, three or four eggs, and both parents incubate the clutch. As each egg hatches, a parent removes the eggshells from the nest. If not removed, the pieces can press on top of the other eggs and prevent them from hatching. It takes about 20 days for the eggs to hatch.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Laughing Gull and how can it be identified?

The Laughing Gull, scientifically known as Leucophaeus atricilla, is a medium-sized gull recognized by its distinctive black head during breeding season, white underparts, and gray wings. Its raucous call resembles laughter, which is the origin of its name. During winter, the black head is replaced with a white one, marked by a small dark spot behind the eye.

Where can one typically find Laughing Gulls?

Laughing Gulls are commonly found along the coasts of North America, particularly from the northeastern USA down to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. They are coastal birds, preferring sandy beaches, estuaries, and nearshore waters. Migration patterns see them wintering as far south as northern South America.

What does the Laughing Gull's diet consist of?

Laughing Gulls are opportunistic feeders with a varied diet that includes fish, insects, and invertebrates. They are also known to scavenge and will eat human food waste when available. Their feeding habits are flexible, allowing them to forage while flying, walking, or even swimming.

How do Laughing Gulls reproduce and raise their young?

Laughing Gulls breed in large colonies on coastal islands. They build nests on the ground from grass and twigs. Females typically lay two to four eggs, and both parents share incubation duties for about three weeks. After hatching, chicks are cared for by both parents and fledge in about five weeks.

Are Laughing Gulls considered an endangered species?

No, Laughing Gulls are not currently considered endangered. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), they are listed as a species of Least Concern. This status indicates a stable and widespread population, although they are still subject to threats like habitat loss and pollution.

What role do Laughing Gulls play in their ecosystem?

Laughing Gulls play a significant role in their ecosystem as both predator and scavenger. They help control populations of fish and insects and clean up dead animal matter and human refuse. Their presence also indicates the health of their coastal habitats, serving as a barometer for environmental conditions.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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