Gulls and Terns

There is a wide variety of gulls and terns to be found here at certain times of year. Some, like the ring-billed gull are quite numerous. Others appear only occasionally.

Ring-billed gulls are the ones noticed by most people. They are even seen around shopping malls and fast food restaurants. They also follow farmers tilling the soil, looking for grubs and other things to eat.

Gulls are sometimes hard to identify because their plumage changes as they mature. Many experienced bird-watchers have learned to identify first, second and third year birds of a species. Most of us, however, don't have the experience to pick out the unusual gulls from a large flock, especially when many of them are in flight!

Here, we have offered a pictorial sampling of gulls and terns seen in Illinois. Discovering that even gulls can be diverse and often beautiful is a suprise to many. We will add more pictures as they become available.

A Bonaparte's gull takes flight. These gulls are small, but often display a bit of attitude by antagonizing other birds. Summer plumage is different, as adults wear a dark hood.

Ring-billed gulls are most commonly seen in areas frequented by people. Click here for a close-up picture of the mark on its bill. Glaucous gulls are somewhat larger than other gulls and are therefore, easier to pick out. They are most often seen on large bodies of water. The Sabine's gull is a rare visitor during fall migration. It is most often seen at Lake Michigan. It breeds in the Arctic and spends the winter at sea. It travels as far south as Peru.
The Franklin's gull breeds in the northern United States west of the Mississippi River, but often passes through Illinois during migration. It travels as far south as Chile. The common tern is regularly seen during migration, but the numbers of terns that choose Illinois as breeding ground has dropped to the point that they are considered endangered in Illinois. Forster's terns are often confused with common terns. They are the white terns most likely to be seen away from Lake Michigan. They have been seen resting on buoys and pilings. A juvenile or young adult is shown.
Kumlein's (front) and Herring Gull back.  Less black-backed gull Iceland gull 
Photographs by Dennis Oehmke and Kanae Hirabayashi.
The Caspian tern (orange bill) is seen with Franklin's Gulls (dark hoods, foreground), a Bonaparte's gull (left) and two ring-billed gulls (background). They are the largest terns found in Illinois. Return to Home Page