Laughing Gull

Leucophaeus atricilla

The Laughing Gull is predominantly a bird of the shores of the east coast and gulf waters of North America and southward into the Caribbean and the west coast of Mexico. Winters may find these birds in northern South America on the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines. These birds have bred at the Salton Sea since 1997.

If one spends time around these highly vocal birds, it is easy to see (or hear) how these gulls got their common name. During the late 1800s, when the millinery trade sought bird feathers to adorn lady’s hats, the population of this species plummeted, but has recovered since protections were established in the early 1900s.

There have been differing opinions throughout the 20th and 21st centuries among the ornithological taxonomist community regarding the status of subspecies of the Laughing Gull. Some see the species as monotypic (no subspecies), while others regard the North American and Central American birds as different from the South American birds. Those who split them named the northern birds L. a. megalopterus, and the southern birds L. a. atricilla.

I first met this species in Southern California at the Salton Sea, where they breed in low numbers, but I got to know them well when I visited the Texas Gulf Coast in the spring of 2020, where they outnumber all other gull species all year.

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