Image: Rick Wright [larger view].
Two hints: (1) this is not a North American species, and (2) it’s not a sandpiper.
Read Rick’s analysis for identifying this species below ..
Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
There’s little doubt that we’re on the coast again, but this bird of the shore is not — to our relief — a shorebird. The gray-and-white plumage, stout but rather long tarsi, and hooked bill make it a gull.
I moved to the desert southwest to get away from gulls.
This one, happily, is among the most beautiful, and among the easiest to identify, of the whole maddening group. Because gulls often allow such close approach, it’s useful to start with size: this is neither a huge, hulking, frightening bird nor an especially dainty one. In this extravagant pose, structure is hard to assess, but we do notice that the head is proportionately large and seems bulky and angular; the forehead is well defined, imparting none of the “snouty” impression that some gulls give.
Close attention to that head is really all we need to identify this bird. The bill is a lovely coral red with an obvious black ring; it is a thick, powerful-looking bill, its depth at the base much greater than the diameter of the eye. And what about the eye? The iris is dark, unlike the cold staring glare of so many adult gulls. There is a dark smudge in front of the eye, and the back of auriculars is marked by a poorly defined dark spot.
As most of you figured out right away, this is a Mediterranean Gull, Ichthyaetus [olim Larus] melanocephalus. As its scientific epithet suggests, this species has an extensive black hood in breeding plumage, reduced in winter to an eye smudge and ear spot. The mantle and wings are very pale, adults showing just a fine black leading edge to the outermost primary; on this bird, the just visible outermost primary of the left wing is still growing, and shows the dark markings of a non-adult.
This bird cannot be sexed visually. [GrrlScientist note: I like using the female pronoun for birds when the sex is not known.]
Mediterranean Gull is not a North American species — yet. Just a couple of decades ago this was still a southern European specialty, but is population and breeding range have increased massively, such that it is now a familiar sight even on the coast of Wales, where this photo was taken. It’s only a matter of time, and not much time at that, until one shows up in eastern North America . Be alert!
Review all mystery birds to date.