Ring-billed gull


Occasionally, I see gulls fly in the sky near my house, but they never land anywhere nearby. I have a vague memory of seeing some last year on the banks of the Bow River, between Downtown and Sunnyside. So I headed to the south bank of the Bow River at 14th street and walked east along the Bow River Pathway. A large group of ring-billed gulls were hanging out on a rocky island under the 10th street bridge, close enough to identify by zooming in with my camera, but too far for pictures with feathery detail. Further east, across from Prince’s Island, a group of gulls was already entertaining a couple photographers. I sat on a little goose-shit-free patch of grass and watched and photographed the birds.

I saw four versions of ring-billed gull colouring – juvenile, first summer, non-breeding adult and breeding adult. The bird in the first photograph is a juvenile – mottled brown feathers overall, very dark brown eyes, pinkish legs and a pink bill with black tip. Adult ring-billed gulls have different eye, beak, leg and feather colours. They have white heads and chests, grey wings with black tips, yellow eyes, yellow legs and yellow beaks with a thick black ring near the tip. Breeding adults also have a red eye contour. Non-breeding adults have black eye contours and their white heads have a few dark streaks. First summer adults look like non-breeding adults except that their eyes are still very dark brown instead of yellow. I did not see any first winter birds (of course!). These are similar to juveniles except that their black beak ring is becoming clearer and some of their mottled feathers have changed into white or grey feathers. I learned all these cool colour facts from All About Birds.

A juvenile and a first summer gull (my first view of the inside of a gull’s mouth!)




First summer (notice the dark brown eyes; and the legs have not turned yellow yet)


I saw the gull below across the river, on a rock near Prince’s Island. It is a non-breeding adult. Notice the yellow eyes and black eye contour.



I mostly saw breeding adults. Check out that red eye contour!


Same gull, other profile :-).


Gazing across the rippling river.



This one had a crooked beak.





      1. LOL! I know…they’re just awful! You might remember that they like to chase joggers at Stanley Park? Actually, that may have been a while ago (back in the 90s or something) because I’ve not heard much about that these days. 😀

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        1. :-D. Maybe the geese thought the joggers were rushing their nests? I’ve been able to get quite close to them at Stanley Park. When they hiss, I retreat and they stop hissing. Good communication I think :-).

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    1. Thanks Hui :-). There were only Ring-billed gulls around and it was pretty cool to observe their different colourings. I was glad that Cornell’s All About Birds had some good pictures and descriptions.


  1. Around here gulls flock in parking lots (do we really need acres and acres of asphalt?) That reminds me of a joke a geologist friend told me…What do you call a crack in the pavement? As-fault! Hahahah! Anyway, once again you have done a wonderful job of exploring the intricacies of a bird species. I love how you do that and it is so good to see them near water where they belong.
    When we first moved to Illinois Canada Geese were few, and they were aggressive. Then they discovered man-made retention ponds and stopped migrating. They bred and bred and covered sidewalks everywhere with goose shit and are now more or less tame and stupid. A college professor explained that this is actually a new sub-species! There still are “real” Canada Geese around, just not as many. That is what happened here; did that happen where you are, too?

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    1. I definitely prefer seeing gulls near the river than in a parking lot! I don’t think I ever see birds in parking lots.

      I’m glad you enjoyed my photo-exploration of Ring-billed gulls :-). I’m having fun getting to know gulls a bit better. Recently, the Ring-billed gulls on the little pebble islands in the Bow River have been joined by Franklin’s gulls and California gulls. I like that the majority of the land bordering the rivers here is green space. Great for birdwatching, walking or riding a bike.

      Calgary seems to have much fewer Canada Geese than Vancouver. But maybe I haven’t found the grassy areas where they like to hang out in big numbers. Stanley Park and Granville Island in Vancouver were quite goose-shit heavy this spring. I found that the shit disappeared 2 or 3 weeks after the geese found a new grazing area though. There are Canada Geese in both Calgary and Vancouver year round. When the weather is really cold during the Calgary winter, the geese huddle together on the water. If they have access to flowing fresh water and food in the winter, they don’t need to go south.
      I’ve never heard of a resident Canada Goose subspecies. I looked it up. According to Sibley Guides (http://www.sibleyguides.com/2007/07/identification-of-cackling-and-canada-goose/) there are 7 subspecies of Canada Geese and 4 subspecies of Cackling Geese (which kind of look like Canada Geese). I think Vancouver and Calgary have different subspecies. Cornell University has an article on resident geese (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/canada-goose-resident-vs-migratory/). They say:

      Though there are still several million migratory Canada Geese, for a period at the end of the nineteenth century they became scarce. (Overhunting, egg collecting, and development of wetlands were among the causes of the decline.) In the 1930s, efforts to restore their numbers led to government-sponsored releases of resident “giant” Canada Geese for hunting. Not long after, as lawns started to proliferate, many of these resident geese flocks began to thrive and expand their range. Though resident and migratory geese may mingle during winter, they retain separate breeding ranges and do not typically interbreed.

      I wasn’t too clear on what a resident goose was after reading that article, so I read something else. According to Environment Canada (https://www.ec.gc.ca/mbc-com/default.asp?lang=en&n=98A918B1-1#ws6A9FD5AF):

      Why did some Canada geese stop migrating?
      Canada geese return to nest where they first learned to fly. Canada geese breeding in southern Canada are not northern geese that stopped migrating, they are the result of the natural increase of populations that were re-introduced or introduced for the first time. The present-day southern landscape provides an abundance of high quality habitat for geese so they have expanded greatly in numbers and distribution. Northern-breeding geese still maintain their historic migratory behaviour nesting in Canada’s sub-arctic regions and wintering in the United States of America (USA).

      I read some more information in other places and it seems that resident geese are descended from captive giant Canada Geese (Branta canadensis maxima). Since their parents did not migrate and the conditions in the towns and cities where they live are comfortable year-round, they don’t migrate.

      This undergraduate thesis on the giant Canada Geese of Rochester, Minnesota has an interesting history of the geese: https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/121512/Daniel%20Eckberg%20Thesis%20sp10.pdf?sequence=1


      1. Wow, you’ve really done your homework on these guys 🙂 One of the things we’ve discovered around here is that if grass is allowed to get a little bit taller than usual, the geese will leave. Of course at the Botanic Garden they don’t want to do that, so they hire someone with a little remote control plane. When we’d be there in the early morning working, we’d get to see him chase the birds around with the plane. It was pretty funny because all it accomplished was chase them to the far side of the lake. When he left they just came back.
        Today I was at Illinois Beach and we saw gulls bobbing in the waves 🙂

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        1. That is interesting about the taller grass. The remote control plane sounds like a much more entertaining idea though! My bird feeder is presently not squirrel proof (though they have to work really hard to get peanuts out of it… which is quite entertaining… for the time being); I thought it might be fun to scare them off with a remote control plane (one squirrel hogs the feeder for a really long time once it is on it).

          Glad you and some gulls got to spend some lovely time at the beach :-). Maybe humans and gulls both hit the pavement for some eats but would rather hang out at the beach.


          1. I never thought if it like that but you are right~we and the gulls gotta eat, but then we like to head for the sand 🙂
            Yes, we did really get a kick out of that guy chasing the geese around with the plane. It would be a hoot to see what a squirrel thought of it.
            Speaking of pavement, my daughter and her dad saw a young mink hanging out under cars in that same huge parking lot. It backs up to woods/wetland, so I hope the minky found its way back home. Not to be confused with Clouseau’s minkey, of course.

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            1. Haha! Clouseau’s minkey! 😀

              I guess parking lots near wild habitats get more wild visitors than parking lots in the middle of a huge expanse of concrete jungle. I always wondered why cats like hanging out under parked cars. Maybe minks are the same.

              The neighborhood cats chase the squirrels in my backyard. I get a hoot out of that.


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