Juvenile. Note: very pale overall with a dove-like head.
  • Juvenile. Note: very pale overall with a dove-like head.
  • Juvenile. Note: very pale overall.

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Iceland Gull

Larus glaucoides
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 Iceland Gull closely resembles Thayer’s Gull—in fact, the two have often been treated as geographic races of a single, though variable, species. Adults of both have a pale gray mantle. A classic adult Iceland Gull has all-white primaries and yellow eyes, and resembles a smaller, delicately built version of a Glaucous Gull. The “typical” adult Thayer’s Gull has brown eyes and shows some black on the upperside of the primary tips. However, individual birds can and do exhibit much overlap in these characteristics.

    Only one of the two subspecies of Iceland Gull is regularly found in Canada and the United States—L.g. kumlieni, commonly known as Kumlien’s Gull. (The other subspecies, L.g. glaucoides, breeds in southern Greenland and winters in North Atlantic Europe.) Kumlien’s Gull breeds in the eastern Canadian Arctic, east and south of Thayer’s Gull with which it sometimes hybridizes where their ranges meet. Most Kumlien’s Gulls winter in Atlantic Canada and New England, with some straying down the Atlantic Coast and to the Midwest and small numbers farther west. The pattern is the opposite for Thayer’s Gull, which winters primarily along the West Coast with small numbers ranging across the continent as far as the Atlantic Coast.

    Identification of Iceland Gull is a predictably contentious issue whenever one is claimed to have occurred within the core wintering range of Thayer’s Gull. Objections invariably raised include the difficulty or impossibility of correctly identifying hybrids, pale extremes of Thayer’s Gull, and birds in immature plumage or showing heavy feather wear or fading, as well as possible confusion with small individuals of Glaucous Gull. The Washington Bird Records Committee has accepted 11 records of Iceland (Kumlien’s) Gull—five from the eastside and six from the westside—while denying eight others. Records committees in nearby states and provinces have been more hesitant. Oregon has just two accepted records, as does California. The Idaho committee has accepted none of the ten reports it has received, although several of these remain under review. British Columbia has had many reports of Iceland Gull, but the review status of the species in the province is unclear.

    Revised June 2007

    North American Range Map

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