Gulls are often the most abundant and visible coastal birds, regardless of the season. This is largely because they are remarkably successful at adapting to different environments and are opportunistic feeders. In the winter, ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) are one of the most common gulls in Massachusetts, perhaps even outnumbering Herring gulls and Black-backed gulls. They can be distinguished from these other two species as being the smallest of the three, and adult ring-billed gulls have a fairly short, slim yellow bill encircled with a black band. It does, however, take two to three years for a ring-billed gull to obtain its adult plumage. Prior to this, their bills are either mostly black, or black-tipped, rather than black-ringed.
Ring-billed bull with a herring gull (Larus argentatus) in the background.
Ring-billed gulls are winter migrants in Massachusetts. By spring many will be back in their breeding grounds in the inland areas of the northern United States and southern Canada, near freshwater. Although I spotted these birds near the coast, ring-billed gulls are, in fact, the gulls you’re most likely to see far away from coastal areas. They are fairly comfortable around humans and frequent parking lots, beaches and fields. They are highly opportunistic and often scavenge in garbage dumps and other places where food scraps may be available. Like most gulls, ring-billed gulls are primarily scavengers but they can also forage using a variety of behaviors, including walking, wading, swimming, and flying, and frequently catch fish, crabs, insects, worms, or rodents. When they are found in coastal areas, ring-billed gulls tend to remain close to shore in estuaries, beaches, mudflats, and beaches, rather than venturing far out to sea.