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Description of the California Gull

BREEDING MALE

The California Gull is a medium gull with plumage that varies somewhat by age and by season. Breeding adults have white heads and a yellow bill with both black and red markings near the tip. A white foreneck neck and underparts contrast with gray upperparts. In flight, the primaries are extensively black with small white tips.  Length: 21 in.  Wingspan: 54 in.

 

california gull

 

california gull adult flight trans gl

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

 

Female

The sexes are similar.

Seasonal change in appearance

Winter adults have brown streaking on the head and nape.

California Gull winter adult gb
Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

Juvenile

Immature birds are mostly brown, with a black-tipped pinkish bill. They attain adult plumage by age four.

california gull subadult aw
Photograph © Alan Wilson.

 

California Gull juvenile tg
Photograph © Tom Gray.

Habitat

California Gulls inhabit coastal areas, lakes, farms, and towns.

Diet

California Gulls eat insects, fish, garbage, and eggs.

Behavior

California Gulls forage by walking, wading, or swimming.

Range

California Gulls breed in western Canada and parts of the western U.S. They winter along the Pacific Coast. They can be seen in migration across much of the western U.S. The population is increasing.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the California Gull.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird's wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species' identification.

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History

Fun Facts

The 1848 plague of grasshoppers affecting Mormons in Utah was alleviated when numerous California Gulls arrived and began consuming the insects.

California Gulls are typically found near saline lakes.

 

Vocalizations

The voice is often described as being high and scratchy

Nesting

The California Gull’s nest is a depression lined with weeds and grass. It is placed on an island or on land near water.

Number: Usually lay 2-3 eggs.
Color: brownish or olive with darker markings.

 

california gull eggs

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 23-27 days, and leave the nest within a few days, though they cannot fly for about 45 days and they associate with the adults for some time.

 

california gull young