Bonaaparte's Gull PS IMG_4991 - Copy

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Chroicocephalus philadelphia (formerly Larus Philadelphia)

By Peter Vankevich

This is a small buoyant gull with a striking white wing edge that may be seen from quite a distance. It has a dark bill and red legs. In breeding plumage, like the Laughing Gull, it has a black hood. In its basic, i.e. nonbreeding plumage, which is how it mostly appears when present on Ocracoke, the dark hood is replaced by a black ear patch.

Bonapartes Gull flight crop PS IMG_1235Bonaparte’s gull breeds in boreal forest across Alaska and Canada, as far east as central Quebec and south to within 200 miles of the United States-Canada border. Nests are near lakes, bogs, and muskegs.

It is the only North American gull that nests in trees, preferring conifers, especially black spruce.

They winter on both coasts and in the Great Lakes.

Bonaparte’s Gull photographed late summer in Maine. Photo by Peter Vankevich

Like most gulls, they are opportunistic feeders, eating a wide range of invertebrates. During breeding season, they feed primarily on insects, often catching them in flight.

Agile flyers, they catch fish by diving from a few meters above the water and by aerial and surface dipping.


(audio provided courtesy of OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons)

Best time to see:  late fall, winter to early spring.

Where:  Beach, South Point, ferry runs, boat trip to Portsmouth, all ferry routes.

Birds of the Outer Banks Checklist


Ocracoke features one of the largest gulls in the world, the Great black-backed Gull, and one of the smallest, the Bonaparte’s Gull.

The species is named for Charles Lucien Bonaparte, a French ornithologist and a nephew to the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

Bonaparte's Gull PS 2015-01-31 15.48.56

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