phil jeffrey:: Gray-hooded Gull on Coney Island, July 2011


Originally identified as a Black-headed Gull, a Gray-headed Gull was discovered by Sara Burch and Jacob McCartney on July 24th. The eBird reviewer (Doug Gochfeld) caught this ID and the rarity of the bird was made clear on the following Thursday July 28th. That's an eternity in rare bird chasing but fortunately the gull stuck around. The excitement was so palpable there was even a NY Times article about this gull.

Gray-hooded Gull (aka Grey-headed Gull in non-AOU areas) (Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus) breeds on both coasts of Africa and South America, south of the equator. It's not highly migratory per se, but does disperse widely in the non-breeding season. There was one prior record from Florida in 1998, so it's made an appearence on the AOU list for the U.S.A. There apparently was another North American record from Barbados in 2009. That's it. The African population has strayed to Israel and Spain, but NYC is by far the furthest north one of these birds has traveled.

In appearance it's a little smaller and a little more slender than a Laughing Gull. The gray hood (which can be fairly prominent in full breeding) is somewhat pale, fading to white on the forehead. The plumage state points to a worn adult (definitive) alternate starting to molt into basic plumage. That's pretty much like any number of Laughing Gulls that you can see on the East Coast.

To make quick work of some of the salient points:

So it appears wild, although we cannot ever eliminate the possibility that it followed a ship for a while. There have been a number of lengthy posts about the "origin question": It even appears to potentially overlap with Laughing Gull in non-breeding season, offering the possibility that it simply followed the wrong species in the wrong direction. Basically there's no concrete reason to construe it as captive, nor held captive while being ship-assisted, so I believe there's no reason for it not to be countable although the definitive word on that rests with NYSARC. Since this species is very rare (ABA class 5) this will be good news for many people including myself. This year I've managed to get my eyes on other rarities like Short-tailed Albatross, Black-vented Oriole and Rufous-backed Thrush so it's been exceptional in that regard.

The 1998 Florida record, the only previous U.S.A. sighting, is documented here in a North American Birds article.

Text and images © Phil Jeffrey 2011