Bird Bio: Ring-billed Gull

Adult Ring-billed Gull

Adult Ring-billed Gull

Recent questions about “seagulls” from a few observant customers inspired this blog.  We were asked “why are seagulls here in TN”?  Gulls are a large diverse family of birds in North America and, in fact, there is not one named “seagull”.  Most everybody refers to them as such because they go to the beach and coastal areas and see gulls and that’s what they call them. 

Some species of gulls are mostly pelagic, meaning relating to, or living or occurring in the open sea. Other species of gulls frequent coastal waters or inland lakes and wetlands.  So, to see gulls on any of the lakes or rivers in the area is completely normal.  In winter more uncommon species of gulls may be seen as they get pushed down by cold temperatures north of here.  It is quite common to see gulls flying about in the parking area of Walmart and Lowes on Charlotte Pike because the Cumberland River is just a short distance from there.  Gulls are adept scavengers and frequently find discarded food items in parking areas.

In general male gulls are larger than females, which is the opposite of raptors, for example, where females tend to be larger. 

There are at least six gulls that can be seen in TN.  The Ring-billed and Bonaparte’s gulls are the most common and regularly seen.   Laughing, Herring’s, Franklins, and Lesser Black-backed gulls are less common and irregular.  

Ring-billed Gull

Adult Ring-billed Gulls are medium sized, have a white head and tail, and underparts are white, too.

The back and upper wings are light gray, and the wingtips are black with white spots. The adult's legs and eyes are yellow, and the bill is yellow with a black ring near the tip. They are about 18” in length with a wingspan of nearly 4 feet.  Like many gulls, it takes 3 years for a Ring-billed Gull to reach adult plumage.

“Ring-bills” are primarily an inland nesting gull that frequents garbage dumps, parking lots, and southern coastal beaches in large numbers during the winter

It is Tennessee's most common wintering gull arriving in late September and departing by early May.