This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the Franklin’s gull.
Like sparrows, gulls are challenging to identify. Most have a color scheme of black, white and gray. Adding in the mix of juvenile and hybrid plumages further complicates the choice. Paying attention to size, eyes, legs, bill, wingtips, behavior and location will narrow the field of possibilities.
In breeding plumage, the small Franklin’s gull adult has a black head, white eye crescents, dark gray upper parts, short red bill, red legs and black wingtips. It is one of the most migratory of gulls, flying up to 7,000 miles from the coasts of Chile and Peru to breeding grounds in the interior of Canada.
These gulls are dependent on extensive prairie marshes for breeding and raising young. They nest in large, noisy colonies of hundreds or thousands of birds on floating nests less that 2 feet apart. After nesting, they wander widely in western North America, where they are an interior species found in a wide range of habitats.
Franklin’s gulls mainly eat invertebrates and, in migration, are found feeding in fields (often following tractors), pastures, landfills and wetlands. They capture insects in flight or on the ground, and in shallow waters will spin in circles, creating a vortex which brings prey to the surface.
In the United States, their population has declined by up to 95 percent in the last 50 years.
While certainly not a common bird here, they have been seen on Navajo Lake and Hatcher lake at this time of year.
When our Audubon chapter can resume group activities, they will be posted on our website, www.weminucheaudubon.org or at www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.