• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer
Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Laughing Gull

Leucophaeus atricilla ORDER: CHARADRIIFORMES FAMILY: LARIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Swirling over beaches with strident calls and a distinctive, crisp black head, Laughing Gulls provide sights and sounds evocative of summer on the East Coast. You’ll run across this handsome gull in large numbers at beaches, docks, and parking lots, where they wait for handouts or fill the air with their raucous calls. Laughing Gulls are summer visitors to the Northeast and year-round sights on the coasts of the Southeast and the Gulf of Mexico.

Eco-Trail FY13-14Sponsored Ad
Drink Birds & Beans coffee. Save our birds.

Keys to identification Help

Gulls
Gulls
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Laughing Gulls are medium-sized gulls with fairly long wings and long legs that impart a graceful look when they are flying or walking. They have stout, fairly long bills.

  • Color Pattern

    Laughing Gulls are medium gray above and white below. Summer adults have a crisp black hood, white arcs around the eye, and a reddish bill. In winter, the hood becomes a blurry gray mask on a white head. The legs are reddish black to black. Immatures are much browner and more subtly patterned than adults; they take 2-3 years to gain adult plumage.

  • Behavior

    Laughing Gulls eat almost anything, including food they catch or steal, handouts, garbage, and discards from fishing boats. They often congregate in parking lots, sandy beaches, and mud bars. Listen for their nasal, strident calls in flight, while feeding, and at rest.

  • Habitat

    Laughing Gulls are a coastal species and are only occasionally seen very far inland. Look for them in plowed fields, garbage dumps, parking lots, and shorelines. They nest, often in large numbers, on islands near the shore but safely isolated from terrestrial predators.

Range Map Help

Laughing Gull Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Breeding adult

    Laughing Gull

    Breeding adult
    • Slender, long-winged gull
    • Black hood with white crescents above and below eye
    • Reddish bill droops at tip
    • Slaty gray back and wings
    • © Ian Davies, Plymouth, Massachusetts, July 2011
  • Breeding adult

    Laughing Gull

    Breeding adult
    • Slender and long-winged
    • Black hood contrasts with snowy white underparts
    • Slaty gray wings with black tips and a thin white trailing edge
    • Long reddish bill droops slightly at tip
    • © Ian Davies, Plymouth, Massachusetts, July 2011
  • Breeding adult

    Laughing Gull

    Breeding adult
    • Slender, medium-sized hooded gull
    • Long reddish bill
    • Black wing tips, slaty gray back and wings
    • White eye arcs contrats with black hood
    • © Ian Davies, Plymouth, Massachusetts, May 2010
  • Nonbreeding adult

    Laughing Gull

    Nonbreeding adult
    • Medium-sized slender and long-winged gull
    • Mostly white head with dark gray streaking behind crown
    • Slaty gray above with snowy white underparts
    • Long black bill with slight reddish tinge, long black legs
    • © Tim Lenz, Provincetown, Massachusetts, November 2008
  • Nonbreeding adult

    Laughing Gull

    Nonbreeding adult
    • Long-winged and slender gull
    • Long, drooping bill mostly black with dark reddish tinge
    • Head mostly white with dark gray streaking on crown and back of head
    • Slaty gray back and wings with black wing-tips
    • © osprey41, Redington Beach, Florida, January 2009
  • Juvenile

    Laughing Gull

    Juvenile
    • Slender body and long wings
    • Long black bill
    • Dusky brownish gray nape, back and wings
    • Black wing-tips
    • © bird_dog57, Daytona Beach, Florida, September 2008
  • Juveniles

    Laughing Gull

    Juveniles
    • Long, slender wings
    • Long black bill droops slightly at tip
    • Wings scalloped dusky gray-brown, black wing-tips
    • Dusky gray/tan on crown and neck
    • © Gary Tyson, Brigantine/Forsythe NWR, New Jersey, September 2010
  • Juvenile

    Laughing Gull

    Juvenile
    • Slender and long-winged with long, black bill
    • Dusky gray-brown on crown, neck, and body
    • Gray feathers appear on back and shoulders later in the fall
    • Long black legs
    • © Gary Tyson, Cape May, New Jersey, September 2010
  • First winter

    Laughing Gull

    First winter
    • Slender-bodied and long-winged gull
    • Long, drooping black bill
    • Bold white eye-arcs, grayish brown on cheeks and nape
    • Slaty-gray back, tan-gray wings with black tips
    • © Laurie Brice, Sebastian Inlet, Florida, November 2008
  • First summer

    Laughing Gull

    First summer
    • Slender and long-winged
    • Black hood more patchy than adult
    • Long blackish bill with drooping tip
    • Long, slaty gray wings with black tips
    • © Bob Baker, Chincoteague, Virginia, July 2007
  • Breeding adults

    Laughing Gull

    Breeding adults
    • Slender-bodied and long-winged gull
    • Long reddish bill droops at tip
    • Black hood with thin white eye arcs
    • Slaty gray back
    • © Joan Gellatly, Palm Harbor, Florida, June 2010

Similar Species

  • Breeding adult

    Franklin's Gull

    Breeding adult
    • Smaller and more delicate than Laughing Gull
    • Smaller, thinner bright red bill
    • Paler gray back and wings
    • Black wing tips dotted with bright white spots
    • © Ron Kube, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, June 2009
  • Breeding adults

    Franklin's Gull

    Breeding adults
    • More delicate than Laughing Gull with smaller bill
    • Extensive white on black wing-tips
    • Paler gray on back and wings
    • © Ron Kube, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, July 2009
  • Nonbreeding Adult

    Franklin's Gull

    Nonbreeding Adult
    • Smaller than Laughing Gull
    • More slender bill
    • Hood more extensive than on nonbreeding adult Laughing
    • White spots visible on wing-tips
    • © Ian Davies, Lima, Peru, February 2010
  • Juvenile

    Franklin's Gull

    Juvenile
    • Smaller and more slender-billed than Laughing Gull
    • Darker hood than on juvenile Laughing Gull
    • Cleaner white breast with faint tan/buffy wash on sides of neck
    • © Ron Kube, Blackie, Alberta, Canada, August 2009
  • Breeding adult

    Bonaparte's Gull

    Breeding adult
    • Much smaller and daintier than Laughing Gull
    • Delicate, thin black bill
    • Bubblegum pink legs
    • Very thin white eye ring
    • © maia_bird, Sachuest Point NWR, Rhode Island, August 2009
  • Nonbreeding adult

    Bonaparte's Gull

    Nonbreeding adult
    • Small and delicate gull
    • Slender, pointed black bill
    • Mostly white head with small dark spot behind eye
    • Bright pink legs
    • © Will Sweet, Drake's Island, Maine, August 2010
  • First winter

    Bonaparte's Gull

    First winter
    • Small, tern-like gull
    • First winter birds show distinctive "M"-shaped pattern on wings in flight
    • Slender, pointed black bill
    • Mostly white head with dark smudge behind eye
    • © Christine Fusco, Conowingo Dam, Maryland, November 2011
  • Juvenile

    Bonaparte's Gull

    Juvenile
    • Small and dainty gull
    • Rounded head and straight, slender bill
    • Dusky brownish above, white below
    • © Robinsegg, Antelope Island, Utah, November 2007
  • Juvenile

    Ring-billed Gull

    Juvenile
    • Similar to juvenile Laughing Gull, but slightly larger
    • Compact and stocky
    • Short and stubby pink bill with black tip
    • Pink legs
    • © BlackRose, Tappen Beach, Glenwood Landing, New York, August 2009
  • Nonbreeding adult

    Lesser Black-backed Gull

    Nonbreeding adult
    • Larger and more heavy-bodied than Laughing Gull
    • Stout yellow bill with red spot at tip
    • Glowing yellow eye and yellow legs
    • Mostly white head with faint gray streaks
    • © Ian Davies, Plymouth, Massachusetts, November 2011

Similar Species

Franklin’s Gulls are rare on the East Coast, and are smaller and paler above than Laughing Gulls, typically with more white in the wingtips. Bonaparte’s Gulls can be seen alongside Laughing Gulls in the winter, but are much smaller, paler, and daintier. Other common gulls like Ring-billed Gull, Lesser-Black-backed Gull, and Herring Gull are larger than Laughing Gull and have white heads (often slightly streaked in winter) and yellowish bills.

Regional Differences

Slightly smaller than a Ring-billed Gull

Find This Bird

Look for Laughing Gulls at the beach, especially during summer when their crisp black hoods and red bills make them easy to pick out from other gull species. You may also notice that their back and wings (the mantle) are considerably darker than common medium-sized gulls such as Ring-billed Gulls; this can also help you to pick them out from a crowd.

You Might Also Like

Tips for Identifying Some Common Gulls: Story and photos in BirdScope