Winter plumage adult. Note: dark underwing and white trailing edge of wing.
© Gregg Thompson
  • Winter plumage adult. Note: small black bill, white primaries, and pinkish hue.
  • Winter plumage adult
  • Winter plumage adult. Note: dark underwing and white trailing edge of wing.
  • Winter plumage adult
  • Winter plumage adult feeding on deer carcass.
  • Note: wedge-shaped tail.
  • Note: white trailing edge to wing.

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Ross's Gull

Rhodostethia rosea
Charadriiformes
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:
Laridae
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

    A glamorous native of the high Arctic in the Old World, Ross’s Gull is rarely seen by North American birders except along the northern Alaska coast (where it occurs in fall migration) or at Churchill, Manitoba, where a small, isolated population was discovered nesting some years ago. A small gull—the size of a Bonaparte’s—it has a tiny, dark bill, pale gray upperparts, and underparts washed with pink in adults. In flight, the long, wedge-shaped tail and prominent white trailing edge of the wing are evident; the underwing usually appears darker than the upperwing. Consult a good field guide for separating immature plumages of Ross’s Gull and other small gull species.

    Ross’s Gull has been recorded only about two dozen times in the Lower 48, from coast to coast and as far south as Maryland, Missouri, and California. Washington’s only Ross’s Gull visited McNary Dam on the Columbia River, on both the Oregon and Washington sides, from 27 November to 1 December 1994. Oregon had one previous record, at Yaquina Bay from 18 February to 1 March 1987. Idaho also has a single record, from 21 to 27 January 1998 at the American Falls Reservoir. The first Ross’s Gull to be found in temperate North America visited Victoria, British Columbia, from 27 October to 9 November 1966. This is still the only record for the province.

    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