"Black-hooded" Gulls

Identification Keys and Tips

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NOTE: These five species of gulls all exhibit obvious black "hoods" in breeding plumage, with much less extensive dark markings on the head in non-breeding adults, and for juveniles.  Of the five species, only two are commonly found in the state (Franklin's Gull and Bonaparte's Gull).  The two species are relatively easy to differentiate, if given a good look.  Bonaparte's are smaller and more delicate than the Franklin's, have a smaller bill, and have a distinctive thing white triangle on the outer primaries on the upper wing.  Other species on this page can also be confused with Franklin's and Bonaparte's Gulls, but they are all very rare visitors to the state, and do have distinctive wing patterns and other features that make identification possible.

I have provided the major features that allow the five species to be differentiated.  Note that given the variety of plumages from first-year to adult birds, the identification keys listed below are not all-inclusive.  However, the features listed below should allow you to safely differentiate these species.  Note I do have photos for some species of both breeding plumage birds, and juveniles or non-breeding adults (bottom of page).
Franklin's Gull   Bonaparte's Gull
Larus pipixcan   Larus philadelphia

Franklin's Gull - Larus pipixcan

 

Bonaparte's Gull - Larus philadelphia

Height: 14-15 inches   Height: 13-14 inches (noticeably smaller than Franklin's or Laughing Gull)
Wingspan: 36 inches Wingspan: 33 inches
Bill: Deep reddish in breeding plumage, black in other seasons Bill: Thin dark bill. 
Legs: Reddish black in mature bird, black for juveniles Legs: Light pink legs, much different than Franklin's Gull.
Wings: Clean white underwing, black spots on tips.  Upperside gray with white band on back of wing, and next to black tips. Wings: Distinctive thin white triangle on upper-wings' outer primaries (see photo above).  Dark tips on primaries.
Head: Dark hood with broad white eye-arcs in breeding plumage (see photo above).  Significant gray and dark gray/black on immatures and non-breeding adults.  Clean white on back of neck (compare to Laughing Gull). Head: Dark hood in breeding plumage, similar in extent to Franklin's Gull, but with much less prominent white eye arcs.  Non-breeding and 1st winter birds have mostly white heads, with a dark "ear spot". 
South Dakota Status: Common migrant, and the only "black-hooded" gull to breed in the state (primarily in the northeast).  South Dakota Status: Common migrant in the eastern part of the state, casual in the west. 
Franklin's Gull - Range Map Bonaparte's Gull - Range Map
   
Laughing Gull Sabine's Gull
Larus atricilla Xema sabini
Laughing Gull - Larus atricilla Sabine's Gull - Xema sabini 
Height: 16.5 inches Height: 13.5 inches
Wingspan: 40 inches Wingspan: 33 inches
Bill: Relatively long, dark reddish bill (breeding), dark bill in other seasons and for juveniles.  Bill looks drooped at the tip. Bill: Diagnostic in all but first-year birds, black with yellow tip in breeding plumage.  Note bird above is a non-breeding plumage bird.
Legs: Dark reddish-black for adults, black in juveniles. Legs: Pinkish in juveniles, darker for adults.
Wings: Relatively long wings compared to others on page.  Gray above with extensive black on wing-tips, thin white trailing band. Wings: Diagnostic bold wing pattern, with strong black triangle on outer primaries, and strong white triangle on inner primaries.  Three-toned look with gray on back and upper wings.
Head:  Black in breeding plumage is more extensive than Franklin's and Bonaparte's.  Thinner white eye-arcs than Franklin's, but still quite noticeable.  Non-breeding and juveniles mostly white, with gray streaking on back of head. Head: Dark gray hood in breeding plumage, with black band on neck.  Juveniles and non-breeding adults mostly white, with gray streaking on back of head (similar to Laughing Gull).
South Dakota Status:  Extremely rare visitor to the state, with only a handful of records. South Dakota Status: Rare migrant in the state, primarily in the fall.  Only one spring record of the species, so birds seen are mostly fall birds in non-breeding plumage, and primarily juveniles.
Laughing Gull - Range Map  Sabine's Gull - Range Map 
   
Little Gull  
Larus minutus  
Little Gull - Larus minutus  
Height: 11 inches  
Wingspan: 24 inches  
Bill: Thin, dark bill.  
Legs: Dark reddish-pink, lighter for first-year birds.   
Wings: Unique wing pattern, dark underneath with white trailing edge and tips, light gray above with white trailing edge and tips.  
Head: Dark hood in breeding plumage, mostly white in non-breeding adults and juveniles, with a dark "ear-spot", and streaking or gray on the back of the crown.  
South Dakota Status: Very rare visitor to the state, with only a handful of records.  Note photo above is of a first-summer juvenile.  
Little Gull - Range Map   

 

Franklin's Gull

 

Bonaparte's Gull

Additional Photos Additional Photos
Franklin's Gull - Larus pipixcan Franklin's Gull - Larus pipixcan Franklin's Gull - Larus pipixcan   Bonaparte's Gull - Larus philadelphia Bonaparte's Gull - Larus philadelphia Bonaparte's Gull - Larus philadelphia
Franklin's Gull - Larus pipixcan Franklin's Gull - Larus pipixcan Franklin's Gull - Larus pipixcan   Bonaparte's Gull - Larus philadelphia Bonaparte's Gull - Larus philadelphia Bonaparte's Gull - Larus philadelphia

Laughing Gull

 

Sabine's Gull 

Additional Photos   Additional Photos 
Laughing Gull - Larus atricilla Laughing Gull - Larus atricilla Laughing Gull - Larus atricilla    Sabine's Gull - Xema sabini  Sabine's Gull - Xema sabini  Sabine's Gull - Xema sabini 
        Sabine's Gull - Xema sabini  Sabine's Gull - Xema sabini   

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