Friday, June 12, 2015

When a Black Headed Gull is not a Black-headed Gull

My last blog detailed my search for the rare snowy plover at Wrightsville Beach. During that search I was able to see another state rarity, the black-headed gull.

Observant summertime beach-goers may see loads of "black-headed gulls" on the beaches. This time of year there are laughing gulls that hang out on the beach and beg for treats from sunbathers. Laughing gulls have prominent black heads too, but they are not THE black-headed gull. Take a look at the photos below to see the difference.

This first photo is of the actual black-headed gull at Wrightsville Beach. Note the dark red legs, dark red bill, pale gray mantle, and dark carpal bar on the wing. The black head is actually charcoal in this bird, and is not solid, indicating a molting first-summer bird that has not fully acquired adult plumage. the black-headed gull is primarily an Old World species. they are more likely to be found here in winter. To see one in NC in June is very unusual.

Black-headed Gull by Sam Cooper

The abundant laughing gulls are in much finer plumage. The mantle and wings are a dark charcoal, much darker than in the black-headed gull. The black head is solid and clean cut; the eye crescents are prominent against the black background. Laughing gulls are named for their raucous, maniacal calls; a common summertime sound on our beaches.

Laughing Gull by Don Faulkner