Birds – Ring-billed Gull

(Lanus delawarensis)

Length-18.50 to 19.75 inches.

Male and Female—Mantle over back and wings light pearl color, rest of plumage white except in winter, when the head and nape are spotted, not streaked, with grayish brown. Wings have “first primary black, with a white spot near the tip, the base of the inner half of the inner web pearl gray; on the third to sixth primaries the black decreases rapidly and each one is tipped with white.” (Chapman.) Bill light greenish yellow, chrome at the tip, and encircled with a broad band of black. Legs and feet dusky bluish green. Immature birds are mottled white and dusky, the dark tint varied with pale buff prevailing on the upper parts, the white below. Tail is dusky, tipped with white and pale gray at the base.

Range—Distributed over North America, nests from Great Lakes and New England northward, especially in the St. Lawrence region, the Bay of Fundy, and Newfoundland; more common in the interior than on the seacoast; winters south of New England to Cuba and Central America.

Season—Common winter visitor.

” On the whole the commonest species, both coastwise and in the interior,” says Dr. Elliott Coues. Certainly around the salt lakes of the plains and in limited areas elsewhere in the west it is most abundant, and at many points along the Atlantic coast ; but off the shores of the Middle and the Southern, if not also of the New England States, it is the herring gull that seems to predominate, except here and there, as at Washing-ton, for example, where the ring-billed species is locally very common indeed. From Illinois to the Mexican Gulf is also a favorite winter resort.

It is not an easy matter to tell one of these two commonest species from the other, unless they are seen together, when the larger size of the herring gull and the black band around the bill of the ring-billed gull are at once apparent. These birds fraternize as readily as they bully and rob their smaller relations or each other when hunger makes them desperate. One rarely sees a gull alone: usually a loose flock soars and floats high in the air, apparently idle, but in reality keeping their marvelously sharp eyes on the constant lookout for a morsel of food in the waters below. In the nesting grounds countless numbers occupy the same cliffs, and large companies keep well together during the migrations.

In as much as most of the characteristics of the ring-billed gull belong also to the herring gull, the reader is referred to the longer account of the latter bird to save repetition. When living inland the ring-billed gull, beside eating everything that its larger kin devour with such rapacity, catches insects both on the ground and on the wing. A trick at which it is past-master is to follow a school of fish up the river, then, when a fish leaps from the water after a passing insect, swoop down like a flash and bear away fish, bug, and all.