Franklin’s Gull

Leucophaeus pipixcan
Range Map

Most Franklin’s Gulls build floating nests, often in prairie wetlands of the Canadian interior in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, North Dakota and Minnesota. Recently they’ve been found breeding in Colorado, central Oregon, southern Idaho, northwestern Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota and northwestern Iowa. In winter, they migrate as far south as along the Pacific Coast of South America, from Peru to Chile, where they are common along beaches, ports, and cultivated fields.

The population has declined by over 78% since 1966. Habitat loss has been the biggest threat, but the creation of national wildlife refuges has helped their numbers recover somewhat.

Recent DNA studies have shaken up the taxonomy designations of many species. This includes the Franklin’s Gull and other former members of the genus Larus. In 2008, these birds were reclassified to the genus Leucophaeus, along with four other gull species. Taxonomists regard the Franklin’s Gull as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies are recognised).

The first Franklin’s Gull I met was a migrating bird in April 2004. I was getting acquainted with Cibola NWR, near the Colorado River and the California-Arizona border. It was the first black-headed gull species I’d ever seen. My next meetings didn’t come until a brief encounter in 2015 while I visited southern Oregon. I returned to the region in 2016 and found them once more, but it was a longer, though more distant meeting. In 2017, I visited the Salt Lake region with friends, while on my way to Idaho to see the Total Solar Eclipse. During my tour of Antelope Island, I enjoyed the company of both California Gulls and Franklin’s Gulls as they feasted on brine flies.

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