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:
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