Written by Peter Pearsall/Photos by Peter Pearsall
Franklin’s Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan) is an elegant gull widely distributed throughout the Americas, breeding in North America and wintering in South America. They are regular breeders at Malheur Refuge
Named after the Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, adult birds display a distinctive plumage featuring a black hood, dark gray back, and white underparts. They have a red bill, bright red legs, and a white eye ring. Outside the breeding season, their hood fades, revealing a white head with a dark smudge behind the eye. Juveniles resemble non-breeding adults but with mottled brown plumage and a dark bill.
Franklin’s Gulls have a vast breeding range, primarily found in central and western North America. Their breeding grounds extend from the interior of Alaska and Canada, through the prairie provinces of Canada and the north-central United States, down to the Great Lakes region and northern Great Plains. During winter, they migrate to the coastal areas of South America, including the Pacific coast of Peru and Chile, as well as the Atlantic coast of Argentina and Uruguay.
They are colonial nesters, often nesting in mixed-species colonies alongside other gull species or colonial waterbirds such as herons or cormorants. Nests are constructed on the ground, usually in open areas with sparse vegetation. The nest is a shallow depression lined with grasses, twigs, and feathers.
A female Franklin’s Gull usually lays a clutch of three eggs, which are pale green or olive in color, marked with dark spots. Both parents share incubation duties, which last for approximately three weeks. After hatching, the chicks are precocial and can leave the nest within a day or two. They are cared for by both parents and fledge around three to four weeks of age. Franklin’s Gulls reach sexual maturity at around two to three years old.
Franklin’s Gulls are highly social birds, typically forming large flocks during migration and wintering. They are agile flyers, capable of performing graceful aerial acrobatics in pursuit of insects on the wing.