Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Appledore Gull and the Expansion of Lesser Black-backed Gull in North America

On February 22/2009 I was photographing gulls at Daytona Sores in Florida. There was a nice selection of LBB Gulls of all age classes. Just before leaving I cam across a very nice adult LBB Gull with bands on both legs.

Banded LBB Gull-Daytona Shores, Florida

At the time I did not recognize these as "federal bands" and assumed the bird was banded either in Greenland, Iceland or the Old World. I was excited about potentially documenting the origin of at least some of the birds on the east coast. I made several enquiries but couldn't track down the origin of the bird. 

Much later while doing some research on the expansion of LBB Gull in North America I was reviewing the two breeding records of this species in North America and came across the following blog.

Banded LBB Gull-Daytona Shores, Florida

So it turns out that this banded adult LBB Gull has been breeding with a Herring Gull since the summer of 2007 on Appledore Island off the coast of New Hampshire. This event was well described in "Breeding by a Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) on the Atlantic Coast of North America" in American Birds Vol. 61 p.546-548.

This bird was discovered subsequently at Daytona Shores, by several birders including Michael Brothers and Alvaro Jarmillo in Jan.,2009. This was prior to my  documentation of the bird in late February and the bird apparently wintered  in that general vicinity between Jan-March, 2009.

The bird has returned to Appledore Island for at least four summers and has produced several hybrid young. One of these was documented on the coast of Alabama by Marshal Iliff on October 10/2010. This bird had been banded during the summer of 2009.  Pictures of this bird and more on Appledore gulls can be found at the following link.

A second cycle offspring of the Appledore birds was seen by Blair Nikula at Cape Cod and subsequently at Cocoa Beach Landfill, Florida by Mitchell Harris.

Second cycle LBB x Herring Gull at Cape Cod,MA  Dec., 2009-Blair Nikula

Although suspected LBB X Herring hybrids are seen not to infrequently on the eastern seaboard and Great Lakes I believe these birds are unique in having a known provenance.

The following map shows the sightings of the adult LBB Gull that has bred at Appledore (pink pushpin) as well as records of the offspring sightings (green pushpins) as well as the location of Appledore Island (yellow pushpin).

Appledore Gull Sightings
Appeldore Island, Lesser Black-backed -Herring Gull Breeding Site-yellow
Adult LBB Gull- pink
Offspring LBB X Herring Gull-green

The other breeding record of LBB Gull on the continent is also with a Herring Gull at Juneau, Alaska in June/1993.Given the number of juvenile LBB Gulls as well as probable LBB X Herring hybrids seen throughout the continent it is thought other breeding sights undoubtedly exist in North America.

Traditionally LBB Gulls nested exclusively in northern and western Europe. In the later half of the last century the breeding range expanded dramatically to the north west breeding was extended from the British Isle to Iceland and by1990 they had started breeding in Greenland. 

In a 2008 paper by Boertland, "The Lesser Black-backed Gull, Larus fuscus, in Greenland"- Arctic,Vol.61p.129-133- he states "today lesser black-backed gulls breed abundantly in Southwest Greenland." They conservatively estimated 700 pairs in 2003. These sites are actually closer to the Great Lakes and eastern seaboard than many of the high arctic sites of Glaucous, Kumlien's and Thayer's Gulls.

Comparison between LBB Gull breeding sites and Glaucous Gull breeding site on Bylot Island, Nunavut

The distance from the Greenland breeding colonies to Sault Ste. Marie is about 2800 km which is about 200km closer than the Bylot Island site were my recent banded Glaucous Gull originated. So it seems quite reasonable that the birds on the Great Lakes could well originate from the Greenland colonies.

Juvenile LBB Gull Sault Ste. Marie,ON- Sept. 19/10

Boertland observed recently fledged juveniles on July 28th,2006. The latest sighting of a juvenile in Greenland is September 10. Egg laying apparently begins in late May and may continue until late June. He quotes a brooding period of 25 days and a fledgling period of 35 days leaving lots of time for juveniles to reach the Great Lakes by mid-September.

Boertland discusses that LBB Gull was considered a rare vagrant in West Greenland until the mid 70's with only six Greenland records prior to 1984. This coincides with the period of increasing records in eastern North America. I have assumed that this was directly related to the increased number of birds breeding in Iceland..

A relatively light mantled adult LBB Gull typical of the subsp. L.f graselli that breeds in Greenland

I tried to get information on LBB Gull breeding in Iceland and found an interesting website called Tracking Larus fuscus. They have been color ringing LBB Gulls in Iceland since 1996 and it has been coordinated by Gunnar Thor Hallgrimson since 2007. They have a page on the website with pictures of many of their wintering ringed birds. 

Of the 31 birds pictured none were photographed in North America. Most of the birds appeared to be wintering in Spain and Portugal.  Are we missing these birds or are people seeing them and the information is not getting back to the banders? If anyone has seen a banded LBB Gull with  a blue band with black or white alphanumeric codes I would be very keen on hearing about it as would the Iceland ringing team.

Keep your eyes peeled for these blue leg bands on LBB Gulls
report one here:

Y522 was ringed as a chick at Gardaholt, SW-Iceland, 4 August 2004. The picture is taken on 21 November 2004 at Foz Harbour, Foz, Lugo, NW Spain.
© Antonio Gutierrez

YA87 was ringed as an adult at Sandgerði, Reykjanes Peninsula, SW-Iceland, on 27 August 2007 by Gunnar Thor Hallgrimson. The picture is taken 29 February 2008 at Cedeira Beach, Cedeira, A Coruña, Spain.
© Antonio Gutierrez

Y367 was ringed as a chick at Garðaholt, Garðabær, SW-Iceland, on 23 July 1999 by Hallgrimur Gunnarsson. The picture is taken 27 February 2008 at Pantín beach, Valdoviño, A Coruña, NW Spain.
© Antonio Gutierrez

Despite the lack of recoveries  it seems likely that some of the Iceland birds winter in North America. It would be nice to verify this by documenting some of these ringed LBB Gulls from Iceland.

Iceland was certainly the stepping stone to colonization of Greenland and likely further colonization of North America mostly likely in Labrador and/or Newfoundland (ala Black-headed Gull).

Adult LBB Gull wintering in Newfoundland a likely spot for colonization

The first confirmed record of LBB Gull in North America was in New Jersey in 1934. There was only occasional records until the mid 70s when they became increasingly common both on the eastern seabord as well as the Great Lakes. The first LBB Gull for Ontario was found by Ron Pittaway and Roger Foxall in Nepean in Nov.,1971. It was confirmed at the time by Earl Godfrey but somehow never made it into the official record. The official first record was seen shortly after the Nepean bird in Hamilton. There is a documented record from March 14,1949 from Buffalo Harbor, NY. (pers comm Ron Pittaway).

 Adult LBB Gull in flight  at the St. John's Landfill, Newfoundland.

Since the initial wave of sightings in the mid 70s LBB Gull has been seen in all of the eastern states and provinces with  West Virginia being the last state in the east to record this species. Arizona, New Mexico and Utah all have recent records. It is relatively common wintering coastal bird in Texas (personal observation) and occasionally inland as far as Amarillo (pers comm Barret Pierce). I would be interested to hear if any states in the west are lacking this species on their state list.

On a cruise to the Carribean in early 2010 I was  mildly surprised to find LBB Gull a common bird in the Bahamas at least on Nassau. Although not as apparent in the Lesser Antilles I saw at least 2 adults on St. Martin.

Multiple LBB Gulls wintering in Nassau

In Raffaeles'"A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies" published in 1998 this species was considered very rare in the West Indies. Records had been documented for most of the major islands. Clearly things have changed in the last decade.

As many as 456 LBB Gulls have been seen at one spot in North America at Lake Nockamixon, PA in March,2007.  Boertman, 2008 theorized the recent range expansion of LBB Gull is secondary to "increased food resources (fishery discards,garbage,etc.)". In regards to the colonization of SW Greenland he states, "colonization did not take place until there was a sufficiently large surplus population from Iceland and northwest Europe to support a founder population". Along with the expansion across the North Atlantic the range of this species has expanded southward into France and the Iberian Peninsula with breeding as far south as the Canary Islands.

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull possibly winging its way back to Greenland

My next post will be devoted to the "trickier than you'd think" identification of second winter white-wing gulls, using an interesting gull photographed by Peder Svingen at Wisconsin Point and submitted to ID Frontiers by Ryan Brady. This bird was variously thought to be potentially everything from a Kumlien's to Thayer's to Kumlien's x Thayer's to a Nelson's Gull. Should make for an interesting dissection.

Kirk Zufelt


  1. Kirk, really looking forward to the 2c white-winged gull post. I've long considered that to be the most difficult age to ID with a few of my personal IDs being very tentative, particularly between Kumlien's and Thayer's. Maybe you'll be able to shed some light on the problem. Really enjoying your blog. As someone who may appreciate this, I put together a brief animation titled "Gulling at the landfill" which you'll find here:

  2. LBBG x HERG hybrid is now officially known as the Appledore Gull, named after Appledore Is. The LBBG that breeds on Appledore is banded with a green field band F05

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