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Laughing Gull
Leucophaeus atricilla
laughing gull
Laughing gulls, photographed at Delray's municipal beach, Palm Beach County..
laughing gull

If you're of a certain age, you might remember Mikey, the kid in the cereal commercial who would eat anything. The laughing gull, Leucophaeus atricilla, is the Mikey of the bird world. It will eat anything, even garbage. It will take handouts, It will steal from each other, and it will forage for worms, bugs, snails, crabs, berries and, occasionally, the eggs and chicks of other birds.

They are mostly shorebirds, but will venture inland slightly to visit parking lots, garbage dumps, old farm fields as well as more conventional habitats like saltmarshes and mangroves. Laughing gulls live year-round along the coastline of the southeastern United States, including Florida. In summer, they're also found along northern beaches, but those birds are migratory. They will fly to Central America and South America to spend the winter.

Mature laughing gulls have two different looks, depending on the time of the year. In summer, breeding season, their heads are black, with a white arc around the eye and a reddish bill (see photos at bottom). In winter, the black becomes mostly gray, the bill black.The body is white year-round, wings gray above with black tips. Immature laughing gulls are more brown, and take as long as three years before assuming full adult plummage.

As birds go, they're fairly large; as gulls go, they are medium-sized, with a body length that can reach 1.5 feet and a wingspan of 3 to 4 feet. They nest in large numbers on islands and other places that are secure from terrestrial predators. Both sexes do the work, although males tend to gather material more than females, while females do more of the actual construction. They nest on the ground in higher places to reduce the risk of flooding.

laughing gull

They are daytime foragers, but will work at night as well during breeding season. Females lay as many as four eggs, which require three to four weeks of sitting before they hatch. The newborns are capable of leaving the nest after a day but require about five weeks before they fledge.

Similar looking birds include Bonaparte's gull, which is smaller than the laughing gull and has pink legs, and Franklin's gull, which is rare on the east coast.

Like too many birds, laughing gulls were the target of hunters looking to fill the fashion industry's demand for plummage during the late 19th century. Pesticides also took a toll on the population during the second half of the 20th century. However, laughing gull populations have been increasing in recent decades. The biggest threat to the bird is development and loss of nesting habitat.

Laughing gulls are members of Laridae, the gull family.



by David Sedore

laughing gull breeding
laughing gull breeding
laughing gull breeding
Links for Laughing Gull Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology National Audubon Society National Geographic Society
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.