Bonaparte’s Gulls are exquisite creatures to observe. Appearing to delight in riding the waves, they twirl every which way before diving for krill.
In this flock you can see very clearly the changing feather patterns from breeding to non-breeding, with the signature charcoal gray smudge behind the ear on the gull on the left. Typically by mid-August they have gained their winter plumage. During breeding season the feathers of the hood become entirely black.
We see Bonaparte’s Gulls in Massachusetts in spring on their northward migration to the boreal forests of Alaska and Canada and again in the summer as they return to winter grounds along the Gulf of Mexico and southern Great Lakes region. I at first thought that these were Laughing Gulls but the pinkish-orange feet and legs and buzzy vocalizations tell us otherwise.
I ran into my friend and long-time Annisquam resident Hank Junker on Lighthouse Beach and he reports that every summer he sees at least one Bonaparte’s at Lighthouse Beach or the adjacent Cambridge Street Beach. Hank also mentioned that they are typically here earlier in the summer, around the first week of August.
The Bonaparte’s Gull is about half the size of the Ring-billed Gull. I have learned to observe closely groups of gulls because different species sometimes feed together and you never know what fascinating bird may be amongst the flock.
The gulls are finding a smorgasbord at dawn’s low tide, feeding on krill and other crustaceans. They get into tussles over feeding turf and, with a flourish of wings and a sharp, rasping “keh-keh,” they give each other the business, in no uncertain terms!