Laughing Gull

Leucophaeus atricilla

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    These coastal birds and are only rarely found inland. They frequent piers, beaches and wetlands, but also spend time in newly plowed farm fields.

  • Range

    Laughing gulls visit the Bay region from spring through autumn. In winter, they fly southward.

  • Diet

    Fish, insects, mollusks and garbage

  • Lifespan

    15 years

  • Status

    Stable

Laughing gulls are medium-sized gulls with white underparts and a gray back. They visit the Chesapeake Bay in the summer to breed.

Appearance

Laughing gulls have white underparts and a dark gray back. The wings are dark gray with black tips. The legs vary in color from dark orange to black. During the breeding season, laughing gulls have a black head and a deep red bill. In winter, the bill is black and the head is white with a smudge of gray. Laughing gulls grow to 17 inches with a wingspan of 40 inches. Immature gulls are variably colored, but are generally mottled brown and tan.

Feeding

Laughing gulls eat a wide variety of foods, including fish, insects, mollusks and garbage. They will also hover over freshly plowed farm fields in spring to search for grubs. Laughing gulls sometimes eat the eggs of other bird species, but not as frequently as other gull species.

Predators

Eagles, herons, foxes, raccoons and domestic cats and dogs all prey upon gulls.

Flight

Hold their bill straight ahead while in flight

Voice

Laughing gulls have a shrill, laugh-like call.

National Audubon Society – Bird Song Collection

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Laughing gulls nest from late May to early August in sand dunes and salt marshes. They nest in breeding colonies with other gulls in groups of up to 25,000 pairs. Both male and female birds will help build the nest, although sometimes the male begins the process as a way to attract a mate.

Laughing gulls are monogamous and a pair can stay together for several breeding seasons. Females lay three olive to buff-colored eggs, which hatch in about 20 days. They reach maturity in three years.

Did You Know?

  • Laughing gulls are named for their distinctive, laugh-like call.
  • Have you ever wondered why gulls hover over bridges? They do this to absorb the rising heat from the paved roadway, which helps them conserve energy while looking for food.
  • The oldest known laughing gull was 22 years old when it was killed in Maine.

Sources and Additional Information

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    These coastal birds and are only rarely found inland. They frequent piers, beaches and wetlands, but also spend time in newly plowed farm fields.

  • Range

    Laughing gulls visit the Bay region from spring through autumn. In winter, they fly southward.

  • Diet

    Fish, insects, mollusks and garbage

  • Lifespan

    15 years

  • Status

    Stable