Did you know... There are over 16 different species of gulls found in Alberta, and none of them are called “seagulls”!
Can you tell the difference between various species of gulls? It can be pretty challenging because they have many similarities. However, each gull has some distinguishing characteristics that can help you tell them apart. Learn about the three most common species of gulls found across Alberta below!
Ring-Billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)
The ring-billed gull is Alberta’s common “seagull”. These are the birds that you often see flying around local parks and scavenging grocery store parking lots. While they are commonly seen in the city, the ring-billed gull is found in natural areas as well, nesting along rivers and lakes and scavenging for earthworms and other insects.
As their name suggests, ring-billed gulls are distinguishable from other gulls by the black ring around their bill. Some other characteristics to tell ring-billed gulls apart from other species are their eyes and their legs! Ring-billed gulls generally have lighter yellowish eyes, which is helpful to distinguish them from their California gull counterparts. They also have bright yellow legs, whereas the similar-looking Herring gull has pink legs.
California Gull (Larus californicus)
While the California gull looks very similar to the ring-billed gull, there are few ways to tell the two apart. California gulls are generally larger and have darker eyes than the ring-billed gull. They have a unique red spot on their bill that is a sure indicator that it is a California gull. California gulls are often spotted intermixed with flocks of ring-billed gulls, so keep your eyes peeled!
The California gull has almost the same range as the Ring-billed gull, spotted almost everywhere in Alberta, except along the Rocky Mountain range. They prefer to live around large lakes and wetlands, or around farmlands and parks. Interestingly, despite being called the California gull, this species is the state bird of Utah!
Franklin’s Gull (Larus pipixcan)
The Franklin’s gull is easily recognizable by its dark head and bright red bill. They also have a unique white ring around their eye, which sets them apart from other dark-headed gulls. Franklin’s gulls can be spotted almost everywhere in Alberta, with the exception of along the western border of the province. They frequent lakes, marshlands, meadows, and farmers fields in search of tasty insects to eat.
Franklin’s gulls use a technique called gleaning, or the systematic pecking of invertebrates off of the surface of plants or crops, to find most of their food. They are also adept at catching flying insects in mid-air. Franklin’s gulls have been known to follow tractors in large flocks, in hopes of catching insects that are turned up by the disturbance of the land.
These are just three of the many species of gulls in Alberta. Each one is unique and it is quite exciting to be able to tell them apart! Check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to learn more about other gulls in the province.