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Franklin's Gull

Leucophaeus pipixcan

Length: 15 inches Wingspan: 36 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant
ID Keys: Black head (summer), gray upperparts, white underparts, wingtips with black bar

Franklin's Gull - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gulls are a long-distance migrant, summering on the northern Great Plains and central Canada, and wintering primarily in the Southern Hemisphere along the western South America coast.  In breeding plumage they are a striking bird, with a black hood, white body, and gray wings, with bold white eye arcs and very dark, ruddy red legs and bill. They are breeding birds in South Dakota, although nesting locations may vary from year to year given the often ephemeral or changing conditions of South Dakota's Prairie Pothole wetlands. Commonly seen in migration as well, they can sometimes be seen following plows in farm fields to pick off insects that have been stirred up.  Compare to the very similar Bonaparte's Gull which migrates through the state, and also the Laughing Gull (rarely seen in South Dakota). 


Nests around marshes, sloughs, and wetland vegetation around lake margins.  Prefers large continuous areas of such habitat.  Also seen feeding around farm fields, pastures and prairies, and flooded fields. On its wintering grounds, they are found near the coast on sandy beaches, estuaries, and shallow bays.


Mostly insects in summer, also earthworms, crustaceans, mollusks, small fish, and some seeds. 


Feeds in a variety of ways, from catching insects in flight, walking on the ground and picking up food items, swimming, or wading in shallow water.


May and June. Franklin's Gulls nest in colonies, often quite large (hundreds of pairs or more), and sometimes in association with other wetland species. Given their preference for nesting in areas with extensive cattail and other wetland vegetation, colony locations may change from year to year as ephemeral wetland conditions change over time. The nest itself is a floating platform of reeds and other vegetation, typically lined with finer grasses, hair, or down. While free-floating, the nest is anchored to adjacent vegetation such as cattails. Both parents help to build the nest, and both parents incubate the eggs, with the female typically laying 3. Incubation lasts about 24 days. The young fledge from the nest about 3 weeks after hatching, but typically stay in the vicinity of the nest and under protection of the parents for another week or two before taking flight.


A harsh cuk-cuk-cuk, with occasional interjected screaming keeah-ah keeah-ah.


Summers in northern Great Plains and central Canada.  Winters along the Pacific Ocean in Central and South America.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Franklin's Gull sightings

Similar Species:

There are other "black-hooded" gulls that the Franklin's Gull could potentially be confused with. Click here for identification tips for gulls in general, including Franklin's Gull. Here are the two species most likely to be confused with Franklin's Gull:

Bonaparte's Gull 8 - Chroicocephalus philadelphia Bonaparte's Gull 5 - Chroicocephalus philadelphia Laughing Gull - Larus atricilla Black-headed Gull - Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Bonaparte's Gull Bonaparte's Gull Laughing Gull Black-headed Gull

Conservation Status:

Uncertain status in many areas, but overall, populations are strong, they are common in many parts of their range, and numbers overall are increasing. Habitat loss remains a local concern, but the overall population is not in danger, and the IUCN considers Franklin's Gull to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

July 18th, 2004 -- Below Oahe Dam -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Franklin's Gull photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Franklin's Gull - Leucophaeus pipixcan - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant throughout the state.  Common summer resident in parts of the northeastern part of the states.  Uncommon summer visitor in other parts of the state.

Additional Franklin's Gull Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Franklin's Gull 1 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 2 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 3 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 4 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 5 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 6 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 7 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 8 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 9 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 10 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 11 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 12 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 13 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 14 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 15 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 16 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 17 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 18 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 19 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 20 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 21 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 22 - Leucophaeus pipixcanFranklin's Gull 23 - Leucophaeus pipixcan