Ring-billed Gull

You’ve probably spotted the Ring-billed Gull soaring and swooping over a lake, or picking away at a dumpster by the beach). Just like the rest of the Gull family, love hanging around water bodies and their superb adaptability enables them to find a home with ease. It could be an estuary, a harbor, swampy mudflats, landfills, or farmlands.

About Ring-billed Gulls

Their ingenuity also extends to sourcing food, skimming shallow water for little fish one day, stamping the ground for worms another, or nabbing a snack straight out the hands of an unsuspecting human the next day. These birds play in the sky, swim along entire coastlines, and sometimes mate for life.

Ring-billed Gulls are thankfully numerous enough for you to spot them on your evening strolls. This article helps you uncover the enchanting quirks of nature hidden in plain sight. Read on to learn more about the fascinating behaviors of our feathered neighbors, their unique characteristics, and how you can spot them around you.

Ring-billed Gull Photos, Color Pattern, Song
Ring-billed Gull Size, Eating behavior, Habitat
Ring-billed Gull Range and Migration, Nesting

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Ring-billed Gull Color Pattern

Ring-billed Gulls start off as grey or flesh-colored nestlings which eventually grow into juveniles that are a patchwork of brown and white. They have greyish brown heads and their backs have mottled brown and white feathers. These feathers are short and they end in light tips, giving them a scaly appearance. They have grey tails which end in a black banded tip. Their beaks are black at the tips, but lighten as they reach the base. The baby birdies have legs and feet that are pink.

It takes three seasons of molting for these juvenile gulls to attain adult plumage. As they mature, the brown gives way to light silvery grey feathers that are prominently on their back and wings. Their wings have black tips with white dots, while their head, neck, and chest are completely white. Outside of breeding seasons i.e. in winter, the adult birds have grey or tan streaks on their head.

The Ring-billed Gulls’ most distinctive feature is their beak which is a bright yellow with a sharp black tip. Their eyes are pale, and the juvenile pink of their legs and feet grow into a yellowish-green. Their plumage becomes brighter in February.

Description and Identification

These birds are fairly easy to spot as congregations squabbles, rather around garbage dumps, parking lots, and freshly plowed fields. They are easy to find along water bodies, so keep an eye out by the beach, rivers, or even a lake at your park. You can spot these sociable creatures flying together, a magnificent sight to behold as hundreds of these strong, nimble flyers soar the blue sky overhead. You may see them circling and hovering in their search for food, or even foraging in shallow waters afloat or on foot.

Ring-billed Gulls are shorter than the rest of their family which comprises Gulls and Terns. When these Gulls perch, their slender wings are long enough to extend beyond their square tail. Their plumage is similar to other Gulls, but their backs and upper wings are distinctly paler, contrasting with the black seen at the tips of their wings. But the key feature you should look out for is their beak. It is a characteristic bright sulfur yellow to spectrum yellow and has a unique black tip. Their beaks are also shorter and more slender than the rest of their family members.

Ring-billed Gull Song

People who work in the vicinity of Gulls often work with earplugs in. With good reason, because the Ring-billed Gulls are a boisterous lot their vocal repertoire is raucous and vast.

Their chicks utter two types of cheeps. One is a loud, harsh chitter chatter which signals the chicks’ discomfort while the other is softer cheep the chicks make while recovering from distressing situations.

Among the adults, most commonly heard is a long call that sounds like a shrill squeal of indignation, followed by rapid short exclamations “keeeeeeeaaaaah-keah-keah-kah”. This long call is a celebratory call these birds make after successfully scamming some food, during parent-chick interactions, and even while attracting a mate. The landing call is a modification of the long call, wherein it begins with a few “kow” or “aow” notes lasting 0.3 s each.

During breeding, the long call heard while courtship feeding and interacting with their chicks is more of a long high pitched mew. Many such variations of the long call are heard during other agnostic interactions.

Alarm/alert calls are a series of short sharp sounds such as “kakakakakakakaka” or “uk-uk-uk-uk-uk”.

These calls signify disturbances such as the approach of a predator. Long calls are during hostile encounters, with differences between calls indicating aggression and submission.

Another common call is the one at ground disputes amongst the birds, an incessant exchange of “a-a-a-a-a-a-a or kuh-uh-uh-uh-uh”.

These birds also have a distinctive call while they are at play. Their swoop and soar game is accompanied by a piercing, plaintive “kreeeeeeeeee” or “koowaark” which often lasts for as long as 1 second.

Ring-billed Gull Size

These are roughly Pigeon-sized birds, ranging from seventeen to twenty-one inches. The males are slightly larger than the females, their size averaging at around twenty inches, while the females are about eighteen inches on average.

These birds are larger than the Common Gull but smaller than Herring Gulls. Their wings are long and slender, comprising a wingspan of about four feet.

Ring-billed Gull Behavior

Ring-billed Gulls are strong graceful flyers, flying with ease at speeds ranging from forty to seventy kilometers per hour with light winds. They are often in massive evenly spaced groups, swooping skillfully to snatch food from mid-air, hovering, and even poised stationary in the wind. These birds can even swim briefly with buoyancy, skim the surface and rise out of the water rapidly.

They also dip their heads into the water to quickly snap up their fish prey, and while taking a bath. These birds rarely hop, instead they stride which results in a funny side-to-side tilting gait.

Being opportunistic feeders, these birds are crackerjack foragers. They hunt from water both aerially and by stamping around in shallow water to catch snails and the likes. They also hunt for small rodents, nab insects out of the air, scavenge from beaches and garbage dumps, and even steal food from other small birds.

Gulls are extremely sociable birds and mostly live in large colonies, even more so while breeding. Their colonies can be as large as twenty to eighty thousand adult pairs. Each pair aggressively defends its own nest, thereby claiming a small portion of the nesting colony as its own.

These birds express aggression by lowering their heads and tossing them back while they let out a long mewling call. Submission is expressed by hunching over their neck and tossing their heads repeatedly up or away from the opponent, along with short bursts of calls.

Gulls have also been spotted engaged in play. To them, it comprises of dropping objects mid-air and swooping down spryly to nab them. It is believed to be their way of honing their hunting skills.

Courtship among these birds begins with the male’s long call accompanied by head tossing displays. Their long call ends once the females land close to the males. Females, once they have accepted, hunch down and begin to walk back and forth in front of the male, begging him for food. The males regurgitate into their partner’s mouth, the female delicately swallows, and the males then circle around the female before mounting their copulatory posture.

Some have also reported that these birds occasionally mistake small stones for eggs that have rolled off the nest, and they carefully place these stones back in their nest.

Ring-billed Gull Diet

Ring-billed Gulls are omnivores – their diet is a nutritious balance of fish, insects, rodents, worms, and grains. But Gulls have also quickly adapted to the rapid urbanization and large colonies are found to live off dumpsters, earning them the nickname “fast food birds”. They have been seen to eat fruits, dates, French fries, and other food left unattended by humans.

The Gulls’ fish prey includes small ones like alewife, smelt, and yellow perch. Their insect diet includes beetles, dragonflies, bees, and other bugs. Ring-billed Gulls are kleptoparasites because they steal food from other smaller
avian species.

Ring-billed Gull Habitat

Ring-billed Gulls live by ponds, lakes, bays, and coasts. They prefer to be in the vicinity of water for all seasons although they eat primarily on land. These birds seem to show no preference between fresh and saltwater, and they are also common around human-altered habitats such as docks, plowed fields, and cities. Ring-billed Gulls usually reside on sparsely vegetated land by the water, preferring the low vegetation to hide their nests from aerial predators.

Range and Migration

These birds are partial, mid to long-distance migrants. They migrate in large flocks, often along coastlines or river systems. They have been observed to fly higher while over land than when they fly over water. Occasionally individuals migrate to nearby areas, and this is ascribed to shortages of food or drinking water.

The migration pattern observed indicates that the shift usually takes place around December to February, as migration to the south along the coast ensures adequate food supplies to withstand the winter. The birds migrate to their breeding grounds in spring.

Ring-billed Gull Lifecycle

Ring-billed Gulls are putative monogamists although males sometimes pair with two females who then lay in the same nest. Pairs maintain the same for at least two breeding seasons.

Nest building begins during and immediately after territory establishment. They lay clutches of four to seven eggs, with both sexes incubating the eggs. The incubation period reported is varied, but twenty-three to twenty-eight days seems to be the consensus.

The embryos are incubated, requiring maintenance of temperatures above 36 Celsius. Parents seem to accept any chicks in their territory in the first week after their own chicks hatch, but reject all but their own thereafter. Cooperative breeding is also seen in nests with two females.

They raise only one brood per year. Their chicks reach the fledgling stage once they are ninety percent of the adult size with full locomotor skills, and by then they have gradually become independent of parental care. The small family groups disperse now and they disperse, with their fledglings fully poised to take on the world.

Nesting

These gregarious birds nest in large colonies and seem to show high fidelity to their nests, and these areas are used multiple times by returning or even new pairs. Both sexes cooperate in building the nest, and they are sometimes on rocky coastlines, sand bars, concrete, soil, or driftwood. The nests are minimalist affairs just scrapes sometimes lined by twigs, leaves, lichens, or mosses. Both parents contribute equally to maintaining the nest, and they also leave the nest to defecate.

Anatomy of a Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gulls have medium-size bodies with a round head, slender shoulders and long wings, and a square tail. These birds have carmine to scarlet orbital rims around straw yellow eyes.

Final Thoughts

The Ring-billed Gulls seem to embody agility not just physically, with their acrobatic swoops and dips, but also mentally, with their rapid adaptability and ingenuity. They are practical minimalistic creatures who may not draw your eyes at first sight. But wait till they catch that thermal over the sparkling blue sea, and you watch their lithe white body soar against a sunny blue sky.

Ornithology

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