Birds – Glaucous Gull

(Larus glaucus)

Called also: BURGOMASTER ; ICE GULL

Length—28 to 32 inches.

Male and Female—In summer: Mantle over wings and back, light pearl gray ; all other parts pure white. Large, strong, wide bill which is chrome yellow, with orange red spot at the angle. Legs and feet pale pink or yellowish pink. In winter: Light streaks of pale brownish gray on head and back of neck ; otherwise plumage same as summer. Immature birds are wholly white, with flesh-colored bills having black tips. Females are smaller than males.

Range-Northern and Arctic Oceans around the world; in North America from Long Island and the Great Lakes in winter, to Labrador and northward in the nesting season. Season—Irregular winter visitor.

This very large gull, whose protective coloring indicates that the snow and ice of the circum polar regions are its habitual surroundings, occasionally struggles down our coasts and to the Great Lakes in loose flocks in winter, but leaves none too good a character behind it on its departure in the early spring. General Greely met enormous numbers of burgomasters in the dreary desolation of ice at the far north ; and Frederick Schwatka tells of great nesting colonies in the cliffs overhanging the upper waters of the Yukon, where the sound of the rushing torrent was drowned by their harsh uproar as they wheeled about in dense clouds high above his head. The nest, which is a very slight affair of seaweed, moss, or grass, contains two or three stone-colored eggs, although sometimes pale olive-brown ones are found, spotted and marked with chocolate and ashy gray. Many nests are also made directly on the ground.

What is reprehensible in this bird’s habits is its tyranny over smaller, weaker gulls and other birds that it hunts down like a pirate to rob of their food while they carry it across the waves or to their nest, where the villain still pursues them and devours their young. Quite in keeping with such unholiness is the burgomaster’s harsh cry, variously written kuk-lak’ and cut-leek’, that it raises incessantly when hungry, and that therefore must be particularly unpleasant to the kittiwakes, guillemots, and other conspicuous victims of its rapacious appetite. When its hunger is appeased, however, by fish, small birds, crow-berries, carrion, and morsels floating on the sea, this gull is said to be inactive and silent; and certainly the starving hunters in the Greely expedition found it sadly shy.

The Iceland Gull (Larus leucopterus) looks like a small edition of the burgomaster, its length being about twenty-five inches; but its plumage is identical with that of the larger bird.