On Sunday morning after a leisurely brunch, I answered a phone call from a friend, Ed Mullins, that there was a small Gull with a black head at the main dock early that morning. Ed is a frequent visitor to the main dock, enjoying his coffee and watching the birds and appreciating the serenity of the bay during the early hours of the morning when most of us are still asleep.
This Sunday morning though, Ed noticed a different gull at the dock that he hadn’t seen before. Upon hearing Ed’s description, Lidija and I were off with camera in hand to document and identify this “different, little Gull.”
Many people enjoy watching and feeding the Gulls at the main dock. The most common gull being the Ringed-billed Gulls which got its name because of the black ring around its bill. We arrived at around 11 a.m. and photographed what appeared to be a Franklin's Gull. Using my Sibley’s field guide we quickly narrowed down the possibilities as there are about half a dozen small gulls with black heads. The white spots on its wing tips along with the dark red bill and feet confirmed that it was a Franklin’s Gull!
The Franklin's Gull is a small gull and was named after the Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin. It breeds in central provinces of Canada and adjacent states of the northern USA. It is migratory, wintering in the Caribbean, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. The summer adult's body is white and its back and wings are much darker grey than all other gulls of similar size. The wings have black tips with an adjacent white band. The bill and legs are red. The black hood of the breeding adult is mostly lost in winter. Young birds are similar to the adult but have less developed hoods and lack the white wing band. They take three years to reach maturity.
Franklin's Gulls breed in colonies near prairie lakes. The nest is constructed on the ground and they lay 2 or 3 eggs. They are omnivores like most gulls, and they will scavenge as well as seeking suitable small prey. The Franklin's Gull is uncommon on the coasts of North America. This appears to be the first sighting in Labrador and apparently the only other sighting in Newfoundland and Labrador was about 100 miles off the coast of Newfoundland back in 1978!
It is interesting to note how many people had observed this rare Gull and were aware that it was unusual. Other bird enthusiasts also noted the second year Glaucous Gull that stood out among the other Gulls as well. It just goes to show that you don’t have to be an expert or a biologist to be keenly aware of your environment and the wildlife around you! Thanks Ed for the great sighting record for Labrador!
Tony Chubbs is a Wildlife Biologist, Naturalist and Outdoor Writer. Tony resides in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and can be contacted at email@example.com