8 Types of Gulls in New Brunswick

The cries of gulls are an iconic sound along the rugged, windswept coast of New Brunswick. These hardy seabirds thrive along rocky shores and clifftops, filling the salty air with their raucous calls. From the gigantic Glaucous Gull to the diminutive Bonaparte’s Gull, this province hosts an impressive diversity of gull species. Some migrate vast distances to breed here each summer, drawn by abundant food and nesting sites. Others tough out the harsh northern winter to scavenge the fish-filled waters. Whether admired for their aerial acrobatics, their elegant plumage, or their boisterous behavior, gulls provide a vital energy to New Brunswick’s coastal habitats. Let’s explore 8 of the most common gulls found along this stretch of Canada’s Atlantic shoreline.

Gull Type Size Distinguishing Features
Herring Gull Large Light grey back, black wingtips with white spots, yellow beak
Great Black-backed Gull Very large Black back and wings, pink legs, yellow beak
Laughing Gull Medium Black head, red beak and legs, loud “ha-ha-ha” call
Ring-billed Gull Medium Yellow bill with black ring, gray and white coloration
Iceland Gull Large All white with gray back, yellow and red beak
Bonaparte’s Gull Small Black hood, red legs, small and nimble
Black-legged Kittiwake Small Gray and white, black wingtips, cliff nester
Glaucous Gull Very large Pale gray and white, pink legs and bill

1. Herring Gull

The herring gull (Larus argentatus) is one of the most common and recognizable gulls found along the coast of New Brunswick. It is a large gull with a wingspan of around 55 inches. Herring gulls have a light grey back and wings, with black wingtips dotted with white spots. Their heads are white with a yellow beak and eyes. Herring gulls are opportunistic feeders and will eat small fish, crabs, mollusks, seabird eggs, insects, earthworms, rodents, and even human food waste. They are noisy birds with a raucous “laughing” call. Herring gulls breed in large colonies on islands and coastal cliffs. The nest is a scrape in soil, sand, or gravel that is lined with vegetation and feathers. The female typically lays 2-3 eggs that hatch after around 28 days. Chicks fledge at around 6 weeks old. Herring gulls are common all year round in New Brunswick, but their numbers increase during spring and summer for the breeding season. They gather in harbors and follow fishing boats to feed on discards. Herring gulls are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act. However, their populations have exploded with the availability of human food waste. They are now considered pests in some areas.

2. Great Black-backed Gull

The great black-backed gull (Larus marinus) is the largest gull found in New Brunswick. Adults have a wingspan of around 60 inches. Their back and wings are dark grey-black. The head, underparts and tail are white. The legs are pinkish. The thick bill is yellow with a red spot. Juveniles are mottled brown and take around 4 years to reach adult plumage. Despite their large size, great black-backed gulls are agile fliers. They feed on fish, crabs, mollusks, smaller seabirds, eggs, small mammals, and carrion. They will also eat garbage when available. Great black-backed gulls breed in colonies on coastal islands, nesting on open ground or cliffs. The nest is a mound of seaweed, grass, moss and debris. The female lays 2-3 eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the chicks after hatching. Great black-backed gulls are found year round along the coast of New Brunswick. They are opportunistic and aggressive birds that will prey on other gull chicks and eggs. Their large size gives them an advantage when competing for food with other gulls.

3. Laughing Gull

The laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) is a medium-sized gull named for its loud, laughing call. It is a migratory species that breeds along the Atlantic coast and winters further south. In summer, laughing gulls are common on the coast of New Brunswick. Adults have a gray back and wings, black head, white undersides, and bright red beak and legs. Laughing gulls get their name from their distinctive call, which sounds like a loud, laughing “ha-ha-ha.” They are social birds that nest in large, noisy colonies on sandy barrier islands and saltmarsh edges. The nest is a shallow scrape lined with vegetation. Laughing gulls feed on fish, crabs, worms, and insects, which they pick from the water or ground. They also scavenge for scraps and garbage. Laughing gulls migrate south in the fall, traveling as far as northern South America for the winter. They return to New Brunswick each spring to breed. Though common, laughing gull populations have declined in recent decades due to habitat loss and disturbance of breeding colonies.

4. Ring-billed Gull

The ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) is a medium-sized gull that breeds commonly along lakes, rivers, and coastal areas of New Brunswick. Adults have gray upperparts, white underparts, yellow legs and a yellow bill with a black ring around it. The head is white in summer and streaked gray in winter. Juveniles are mottled brown. Ring-billed gulls are omnivores and opportunistic feeders. They eat fish, insects, earthworms, grain, and garbage. They often flock to landfills or agricultural fields to scavenge. Ring-billed gulls nest colonially near water on gravel beaches, bare ground, or flat rooftops. The female lays 2-3 eggs in a nest made of vegetation. Both parents feed the chicks after hatching. Ring-billed gulls winter farther south on large lakes and along the coast. They are a common sight soaring over parking lots or sitting on athletic fields. Though still widespread, ring-billed gull numbers have declined in recent decades due to factors like botulism outbreaks, pollution, and nesting habitat loss.

5. Iceland Gull

The Iceland gull (Larus glaucoides) is an Arctic breeding gull that spends the winter along the Atlantic coast, including New Brunswick. It is a large gull but smaller than the herring gull and great black-backed gull. Iceland gulls have pale gray upperparts, white underparts, and yellow legs. The wings have white tips. Adults have clean white heads and tails. Juveniles have tan streaking that fades to white by four years old. The bill is yellow with a red spot. Iceland gulls breed in the far north of Canada and winter south to New England and New Brunswick. They feed on fish, marine invertebrates, eggs, small animals and some plant material. At sea they scavenge behind fishing boats and around harbors. They do not flock to landfills as readily as other gull species. Iceland gulls have a slow, deep, mournful call. Their populations are declining and they are listed as Threatened in Canada. They winter along the New Brunswick coast typically between December and April. Birders admire them for their graceful flight and all-white coloration.

6. Bonaparte’s Gull

Bonaparte’s gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) is a small, tern-like gull that breeds in the boreal forest and winters along the coast. It is named after Charles Lucien Bonaparte, a 19th century American ornithologist. Bonaparte’s gulls are just 8.5-12 inches in length. They have a black hood and white undersides during breeding plumage. Their wings are gray above and black at the tips. The bill is black and legs are orange-red. In winter, the black hood fades to white with dark smudging behind the eye. Bonaparte’s gulls nest in small colonies in the trees of northern Canada and Alaska, making a platform nest of sticks in a conifer. They migrate through New Brunswick in spring and fall, and winter along the Atlantic coast. Bonaparte’s gulls feed on small fish and insects, which they capture by hovering and diving. They also scavenge. Their flight is light, quick and graceful. Bonaparte’s gull numbers are declining due to deforestation, climate change and botulism outbreaks at wintering sites. They are still a regular visitor to coastal New Brunswick during migration and winter.

7. Black-legged Kittiwake

The black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) is a small, oceanic gull that breeds on cliffs along the Atlantic Coast. Named for its loud “kittee-wa-aaake” call, the kittiwake has gray back and wings, white undersides, and black wingtips. The legs are black and the bill is yellow. The head is white with a dark smudge behind the eye. Juveniles have a black “W” band on the back. Kittiwakes are colony nesters, building mud nests on sheer sea cliffs. They winter at sea, only returning to land to breed. Kittiwakes feed mostly on small fish like herring, capelin and sand lance. They also scavenge fish scraps behind trawlers. They capture prey on the wing rather than scavenging on land. Their acrobatic, buoyant flight is a beautiful sight along the coast. Though still numerous, kittiwake populations are in decline worldwide due to commercial fishing pressure, ocean warming, and nesting disturbance. Groups like the Canadian Wildlife Service monitor kittiwake colonies in New Brunswick as sensitive indicators of ocean health.

8. Glaucous Gull

The glaucous gull (Larus hyperboreus) is an Arctic gull that occasionally wanders south to the coast of New Brunswick in winter. It breeds across northern Canada and Alaska. Glaucous gulls are very large, with a wingspan up to 60 inches. Adults are pale gray above and white below with wingtips dipped in gray rather than black. The bill is pink with a yellow tip. Legs are pink. Immatures are darker gray-brown. The glaucous gull’s call is a deep, hollow groaning or barking. Glaucous gulls feed on fish, eggs, chicks, rodents, mollusks, crustaceans, and carrion. They scavenge vigilantly and also steal food from other birds. Though powerful, they tend to be less aggressive than other gull species when feeding. The glaucous gull breeds in small colonies on cliffs, slopes, or elevated tundra. Only rarely do vagrants make it down the coast to New Brunswick in winter. Birders admire these massive gulls for their pale, almost luminous coloration when seen against snow.


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