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Gregory R. Mann, Ph.D. {ret.}

Laughing Gull

“Leucophaeus atricilla”

Swirling over beaches with strident calls and a distinctive, crisp black head, Laughing Gulls provide sights and sounds evocative of summer on the East Coast. You’ll run across this handsome gull in large numbers at beaches, docks and parking lots, where they wait for handouts or fill the air with their raucous calls. The Laughing Gull gets it name for its loud and high-pitched “ha ha ha ha ha ha” laughing call. It is a social bird and hunts, rests, nests and migrates in groups. Laughing Gulls are summer visitors to the Northeast and year-round sights on the coasts of the Southeast and the Gulf of Mexico. Laughing Gulls are medium-sized gulls with fairly long wings and long legs that impart a graceful look when they are flying or walking. They have stout, fairly long bills. Laughing Gulls are medium gray above and white below. Summer adults have a crisp black hood, white arcs around the eye, and a reddish bill. In winter, the hood becomes a blurry gray mask on a white head. The legs are reddish black to black. Youngsters are much browner and more subtly patterned than adults; they take 2-3 years to gain adult plumage.

The Laughing Gull nests in colonies with other gulls and terns. The male and female build a platform nest of grass and weeds placed in in tall grass or shrubs. Occasionally, the Laughing Gull nests on open ground. The female lays 2-4 eggs. The eggs are incubated for 20-23 days by both parents. Chicks leave the nest a few days after hatching, but their parents care for them until they fledge when they are 35 days old. The Laughing Gull male will make sure to remove all eggshells from hatched eggs. If this is not done, bits of egg can get stuck on top of unhatched eggs, which may prevent them from hatching. Laughing Gulls eat almost anything, including food they catch or steal, handouts, garbage and discards from fishing boats. They often congregate in parking lots, sandy beaches and mud bars. Listen for their nasal, strident calls in flight while feeding and at rest. Laughing Gulls are a coastal species and are only occasionally seen very far inland. The Laughing Gull breeds along the Atlantic Coast from Canada south to Florida and the Caribbean and along the Gulf Coast. It winters from Virginia south to South America and along the Gulf Coast, Mexico and the Caribbean. The Laughing Gull is rarely found inland and usually it is not found far out at sea. Look for them in plowed fields, garbage dumps, parking lots and shorelines. They nest often in large numbers, on islands near the shore but safely isolated from terrestrial predators. The Laughing Gull eats mollusks, fish, bird eggs, young birds, squid, crabs and other crustaceans, insects, carrion and garbage. The Laughing Gull is found on marshes, beaches, barrier islands, estuaries and bays. It feeds on the water and on land. This seabird swoops down to the water and skims the surface for food or it dives into the water. It also scavenges for food on land and it catches insects in the air. If food is tossed in the air, the Laughing Gull can easily snatch it up and will also fight other birds for food.

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