Adult breeding
  • Adult breeding
  • Adult nonbreeding. Note: dark gray mantle and yellow legs
  • 1st summer. Note: dark primaries and upper wings and pale head.

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Lesser Black-backed Gull

Larus fuscus
This is a large and highly varied group of birds that do not have many outward similarities. Most are water birds that feed on invertebrates or small aquatic creatures. The order is well represented in Washington, with seven families:
The family Laridae is made up of birds closely associated with water. Distributed throughout the world, representatives of this family nest on every continent, including Antarctica. Most are long-lived birds, many of which do not breed until they are three or four years old. Most are colony nesters and nest on the ground. Clutch size is generally small, varying from one to four eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs and help feed the young. The young typically hatch covered with down and stay in the nest for a few days, after which they leave the nest but stay nearby. Most, especially in Washington, raise a single brood a year. This group is known for its elaborate displays in the air and on the ground.

The Washington representatives of this family can be split into two groups, or subfamilies. The adaptable gulls are the most familiar. Sociable in all seasons, they are mainly coastal, but a number of species also nest inland. Many—but not all—are found around people. Gulls have highly variable foraging techniques and diets. Terns forage in flight, swooping to catch fish or insects. They dive headfirst into the water for fish. Although they are likely to be near water, they spend less time swimming than gulls.

    General Description

    The Lesser Black-backed Gull is about the size of a California Gull but slimmer looking. In adult plumage, attained in four years, it is like no other gull in Washington: dark gray mantle (darker than our local race of Western Gull), yellow legs, yellow eye, white head in breeding plumage streaked brown in winter. Immature plumages are more complicated and better covered in field guides than is possible here.

    This European native has been an increasingly common visitor to North America since the 1970s, mostly along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts but also in lesser numbers in the interior of the continent and on the West Coast. The first record from the Pacific Northwest occurred at Revelstoke, British Columbia, in October 1989; the province now has about 10 records, all but one of them from the interior. The first Washington record was from Walla Walla (Walla Walla County) in February 2000. Idaho’s first record came at Boise in November 1999 and is the only one accepted so far, although numerous other reports are under review by the state’s bird records committee. Oregon has a single accepted record, and California has more than 20. Washington’s 10 accepted records range from early September through mid-April. Nine of them are from the Columbia Basin, and the other is from Port Angeles (Clallam County).

    Revised June 2007

    Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List

    View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern