8 Types of Gulls in Nevada

Nevada may be known for its arid deserts and mountain ranges, but the state also plays host to a diversity of birdlife. Gulls in particular find haven in Nevada’s lakes, rivers, and wetlands as they migrate through the interior of the continent. Eight species of gulls regularly grace the Silver State on their seasonal movements or as year-round residents. From the abundant Ring-billed Gull to the strikingly patterned Sabine’s Gull, these birds make their living in Nevada’s aquatic ecosystems. Their calls echo over the water as flocks wheel through the skies. So next time you visit a Nevada lake, be sure to scan for these regal birds that connect the state to the greater biomes across North America.

1. Ring-billed Gull

Gull Type Size Distinctive Features
Ring-billed Gull Medium Yellow bill with black ring
California Gull Medium-large Gray wings, yellow bill and legs
Herring Gull Large Gray wings with white spots, yellow bill
Thayer’s Gull Medium Light gray wings, pink bill with black band
Bonaparte’s Gull Small Black head, red legs
Mew Gull Small-medium Yellow bill with red spot, streaked head in winter
Glaucous-winged Gull Large Pale gray wings, pink legs
Sabine’s Gull Small Black and white patterned, forked tail

The ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) is a medium-sized gull that breeds in North America. It is the most common and abundant gull found across most of Nevada. Adult ring-billed gulls have a white head, body, and tail, with gray wings. The bill is yellow with a thick black ring around it, hence the name. They measure around 18 inches in length with a wingspan of around 50 inches.

Ring-billed gulls feed on fish, insects, earthworms, grain, scraps, and even small rodents. They often scavenge in dumps, fields, and parking lots. They nest near water in colonies, building a nest of vegetation on the ground. The female typically lays around 3 eggs. The eggs hatch after around 23 days.

Ring-billed gulls are a familiar sight across Nevada, found near lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and other bodies of water. They are comfortable around human habitation and man-made structures. Their large range extends across most of North America. Though they may compete with other bird species, they play an important role as omnivores and scavengers in the local ecosystem.

2. California Gull

The California gull (Larus californicus) is a medium-large gull native to western North America. In Nevada, it is common around the Great Basin and Lake Tahoe regions. Adult California gulls have gray upperparts and white underparts. The head is white with small gray markings around the eye. The bill and legs are yellow. They measure 19-24 inches in length with a 49-55 inch wingspan.

California gulls feed on fish, crustaceans, insects, worms, and more. At landfills and picnic areas, they will readily scavenge waste food discarded by humans. They build floating nests in marshes and wetlands, laying around 3 eggs. The eggs hatch after 21-26 days. Young California gulls reach maturity and develop adult plumage after 2-3 years.

Many California gulls migrate inland after breeding to spend the winter around lakes, reservoirs, and agricultural areas. They gather in large flocks of hundreds or thousands of birds. Their loud nasal calls are a familiar sound around bodies of water in Nevada. Though they sometimes cause nuisance around trash dumps, they help control insect and rodent populations. Overall the California gull is a common and adaptable species across western North America.

3. Herring Gull

The herring gull (Larus argentatus) is a large gull that breeds across northern North America and Europe. In Nevada, it is an uncommon migrant and winter visitor mostly found around Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake. Adult herring gulls are white with gray upperparts and black wingtips with white spots. The bill is yellow with an orange spot. They measure around 25 inches long with a 55 inch wingspan.

Herring gulls feed opportunistically on fish, invertebrates, smaller birds, eggs, carrion, and garbage. They will readily scavenge human food waste. Nesting colonies are built on the ground on islands and shorelines. The female lays 2-3 eggs which hatch after around 28 days. Chicks fledge after around 6 weeks.

During winter, herring gulls migrate down the Pacific Coast or inland to places like Nevada. They gather in lakeside flocks sometimes numbering in the thousands. Their loud cackling calls often announce their presence. Herring gulls face threats from habitat loss, disturbance, and pollutants across their range. Still they remain a relatively common and adaptable large gull in the region.

4. Thayer’s Gull

Thayer’s gull (Larus thayeri) is a mid-sized gull that breeds in arctic regions and migrates south through Nevada in winter. Adults have a white head, light gray upperparts, and white underparts. The wings are darker gray with faint darker wrist markings. The bill is pink with a black band near the tip. In winter, the head develops subtle streaking. They measure 19-22 inches long with a 49-54 inch wingspan.

Thayer’s gulls feed mostly on fish, marine invertebrates, and some plant material. They nest in loose groups near water in the arctic tundra, laying 2-4 eggs in a ground scrape. The eggs hatch after around 23 days.

During winter, Thayer’s gulls migrate along the Pacific Coast and inland to places like Nevada, following river valleys and lakes. They roost on large bodies of water and will forage in agricultural fields and landfills. They are uncommon but regular visitors that sometimes mix in with other gull flocks. Their distinct plumage in immature and adult phases helps identification. Overall Thayer’s gull has a relatively restricted range centered on arctic regions.

5. Bonaparte’s Gull

Bonaparte’s gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) is a small graceful gull that migrates through Nevada in good numbers. Adult Bonaparte’s gulls have a black head, white underparts, and light gray back and wings. The bill is black and the legs are bright orange-red. They measure just 13-14 inches long with a 33 inch wingspan.

Bonaparte’s gulls feed on small fish, aquatic insects, mollusks, and other invertebrates. They nest in trees in marshy habitat across the boreal forest, laying 3 eggs in a cup nest lined with vegetation. In migration they stop at lakes, ponds, flooded fields, and other wetlands across Nevada and the western U.S.

Traveling in large flocks, the Bonaparte’s gull migrates one of the longest distances of any North American gull. Their high-pitched twittering calls reveal overhead flocks passing during migration. Though they winter along the coast, many stop inland at places like Lahontan Reservoir and Carson Sink during migration. The bright orange legs and delicate proportions make the Bonaparte’s gull a favorite among birdwatchers.

6. Mew Gull

The mew gull (Larus canus) is a small-medium sized gull that is an uncommon visitor along the Nevada coastline during winter. Adults are white with gray upperparts, a yellow bill with red spot, and yellow legs. In winter, the head develops dark streaking. They are similar in size to ring-billed gulls at 16-18 inches with a 42-46 inch wingspan.

Mew gulls breed across northern North America and Eurasia. They feed on fish, marine invertebrates, insects, worms, and other prey. Nesting occurs in coastal and inland lakeside habitats. The female lays 2-3 eggs in a nest scrape lined with vegetation.

During winter mew gulls migrate down the Pacific Coast, sometimes reaching as far south as Nevada. They mix in with other gull flocks, often outnumbered by the more common ring-billed gulls. However, the dark winter head streaking helps identify mew gulls that stand out from the clean-headed ring-billeds. Overall mew gulls remain an uncommon species in Nevada, but birdwatchers may encounter them occasionally during coastal trips.

7. Glaucous-winged Gull

The glaucous-winged gull (Larus glaucescens) is a large coastal gull of the Pacific Northwest that rarely wanders into Nevada. Adults have light gray upperparts, white underparts, and pink legs. They have a heavy yellow bill with a reddish spot. Adults measure 25 inches long with a 58 inch wingspan.

Glaucous-winged gulls breed along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Washington. They feed on fish, invertebrates, small mammals, and garbage. Their loud calls are a familiar sound around urban waterfronts. Nests are built on secluded islands and rocky cliffs. Parents fiercely defend their nest territory during breeding season.

During winter some glaucous-winged gulls may wander south down the Pacific Coast or inland to places like Lake Tahoe. They mix in with the more common California gull flocks. However, the glaucous-winged gull remains rare in Nevada since its core range lies to the northwest. Birdwatchers should look for them carefully when scanning winter gull flocks. Their large size, pale gray wings, and bright pink legs help identification. Overall this species is emblematic of the northwest coast, only rarely straying into Nevada.

8. Sabine’s Gull

Sabine’s gull (Xema sabini) is a strikingly patterned small gull that passes through Nevada during migration. Adults have a black hood, yellow-tipped black bill, and dark gray upperparts contrasting with white underparts. The tail has distinctive forked streamers. They measure around 15 inches long with a 37 inch wingspan.

Sabine’s gulls breed in arctic regions and winter at sea. They feed on small fish, insects, crustaceans, and other marine invertebrates. Nesting occurs in tundra areas near water. Unlike many gulls, they migrate long distances over land across interior North America.

During migration, Sabine’s gulls pass through Nevada in small numbers, stopping at lakes and reservoirs to rest and feed. They stand out from other gulls due to their uniquely patterned plumage. The wings show a distinct contrast between the black primaries and gray secondaries. Their bouyant, tern-like flight style also differs from other gulls. Though not common, birders prize sightings of Sabine’s gulls in Nevada for their beauty and allure. They epitomize the migration of arctic shorebirds that connect continents.


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