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California Gull

Larus californicus ORDER: CHARADRIIFORMES FAMILY: LARIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A common winter gull of the West Coast, the California Gull breeds inland across large areas of the West. It can be found in parking lots and lakes from California to Manitoba.

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Appearance

Gulls
Gulls
Typical Voice

Adult Description

  • Medium-sized gull.
  • Yellow bill with black ring near the tip and red spot on lower mandible.
  • Head and underparts white.
  • Back medium dark gray.
  • Wingtips black with white spots.
  • Legs yellow-green.

Immature Description

Juvenal plumage: Dark brown head and body, face and nape paler. Back brown with light edgings to feathers. Throat, breast, belly, and undertail barred gray-brown and white. Tail black, edged in white. Flight feathers on wing blackish. Inner primaries and secondaries gray-black. Greater wing coverts black. Bill black, base getting lighter over time. Legs brown to black. Eyes dark brown.
First Winter (Basic I): Like juvenal, but head, throat, and breast whiter, and back is dusky gray with spots of brown. Belly is mainly white. Bill black with base becoming paler. Eyes dark brown.
First Summer (Alternate I): Head, neck, throat, breast, and belly mostly white. Dusky mottling still on belly, sides of throat, lower nape, and around eyes. Back blue-gray with varying amounts of spotting. Wing feathers worn and paler brown. Rump white. Undertail a mix of white and barred feathers. Bill pale with black tip. Eyes dark brown.
Second Winter (Basic II) : Head, throat, and belly mostly white. Dusky mottling on sides, sides of neck, and nape. Wing tips black, but outermost two feathers may have white spots. Back gray, wings mottled gray and brown. Rump and undertail white. Tail white at base with black outer half and white tip. Bill creamy white, with black band near white tip. Eyes dark brown. Legs bluish gray.
Second Summer (Alternate II): Head and neck largely white, but most birds have some dusky markings on lower nape. Wing tips black, but outermost two may have white spots. Back gray, wings mottled gray and brown. Underparts mostly white, with some birds having dark feathers in center of belly. Bill cream to greenish to yellow, with black band and beginning of red spot on lower mandible. Eyes dark brown. Legs and feet variable, cream to gray to greenish to yellow.
Third Winter (Basic III): Extensive grayish brown streaking on back of otherwise white head and neck. Back gray. Underparts white. Tail largely white with variable dark markings, usually toward the tip. Outer wing feathers (primaries) black with white subterminal spots on some. Bill yellow with black band and variable red spot. Eyes dark brown.
Third Summer (Alternate III): Head and neck pure white or with some dusky markings. Back all gray. Underparts white. Tail white with some dark smudging. Bill yellow with black band and some red on lower mandible. Eyes dark brown. Legs light greenish.

Range Map Help

California Gull Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Breeding adult

    California Gull

    Breeding adult
    • Medium sized gull with round head and long bill
    • Medium-dark gray back and wings
    • Long yellow bill with black band and red spot near tip
    • Bright white head in breeding season
    • © Robinsegg, Salt Lake City, Utah, May 2009
  • Nonbreeding adult

    California Gull

    Nonbreeding adult
    • Long yellow bill with dark band and red spot near tip
    • Extensive black at wing-tips
    • Dark streaking on crown/nape of nonbreeding adult
    • © Ganesh Jayaraman, Half Moon Bay, California, February 2010
  • First summer

    California Gull

    First summer
    • Medium-sized gull
    • Dusky gray body contrasts with mostly white head
    • Long, pale pink bill with black tip
    • © Tim Lenz, California, August 2010
  • Nonbreeding adult

    California Gull

    Nonbreeding adult
    • Medium-sized gull
    • Dark gray streaking on crown and nape in winter
    • Yellow-green legs
    • Long yellow bill with black band and red spot near tip
    • © Christopher L. Wood, California, September 2007
  • Nonbreeding adult

    California Gull

    Nonbreeding adult
    • Medium-sized gull with rounded head and long bill
    • Yellow-green legs
    • Black band and red spot near tip of bill
    • © Ron Kube, Port Hardy, British Columbia, Canada, August 2012

Similar Species

Similar Species

  • Herring Gull larger, with pinkish legs, light eyes, no black ring around bill, but red spot on lower mandible. Back color is a shade lighter gray. Some winter individuals have a black ring on bill along with red spot.
  • Ring-billed Gull lacks red spot on lower mandible, has a slightly shorter bill, yellow legs, and a slightly lighter mantle. Young Ring-billed Gull has a thinner dark tail band instead of all-dark tail.
  • Mew Gull is smaller and daintier and has a smaller bill. Its bill is pure yellow or with a faint ring in the adult but lacks a red spot.
  • Thayer's Gull has pink legs and little black in the wingtips.