Like A Bonaparte’s

Black-headed gull at the Eiffel Tower (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2 November 2020

November is a good time to see migrating gulls and waterfowl in southwestern Pennsylvania. Most are common but a few rare ones can fool you.

We always see Bonaparte’s gulls (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) at local lakes and rivers as they head south for the winter. Every once in a while there’s a rare look-alike, the back-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus). Originally from Europe, some now breed in maritime Canada and New England.

At top, a black-headed gull perches on the Eiffel Tower in Paris. In winter neither he nor the Bonaparte’s have black heads, however the amount of black-on-white varies.

Below, Geoff Malosh photographed a black-headed gull at Moraine State Park on 1 December 2017 (embedded from Macaulay Library). Notice that this gull has more black on its head than the gull at top.

As much as they look alike, the big difference between black-headed gulls and Bonaparte’s is the color of the bill. Black-headed gulls have red bills, Bonaparte’s have black as shown below.

Bonaparte’s gull in non-breeding plumage (photo by Bobby Greene)

One of these Bonaparte’s gulls is using his black bill. Check the color to know who he is.

Bonaparte’s gull in Florida, 2012 (photo by Chuck Tague)

In the meantime, keep an eye out for unusual birds in the Pittsburgh area. There were eight surf scoters (Melanitta perspicillata) at the head of the Ohio River on Saturday 31 October. The photo below is embedded from Amy Henrici’s checklist. Click on the image to see the original.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons, Geoff Malosh via Macaulay Library, Bobby Greene, Chuck Tague and Amy Henrici via Macaulay Library; click on the captions to see the originals)

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