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.