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California Gull


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Gulls are often thought of as coastal birds, but California Gulls are also common in inland areas in the West. These medium-sized gulls breed in colonies on islands and levees in lakes and rivers. You'll also spot them in pastures, scrublands, and garbage dumps as they often forage miles from the colony, eating everything they can find from mayflies to garbage. In the winter they head to the coast where they cruise up and down the shoreline with other gulls.


California Gulls do not have true songs, but they are quite vocal; they cry and carry on even at night on their breeding colonies. Their calls consist of a scratchy, hoarse series of aow and uh-uh-uh notes. They have several types of calls with corresponding unique behaviors including the "long call," "choking call," "warning call," and "alarm call." The "long call" given during territorial defense starts with their heads lowered and as they raise their heads straight up they bellow out an aow. During the "choking call" they put their breast on the ground and jerk their head up and down as if they were choking while giving a huoh-houh-houh. They give the "choking call" most frequently before and during nest building. The "warning call" is a long ringing yeow, given in flight, especially when they flush from a breeding colony. The "alarm call" is a series of sharp ha ha ha ha notes that they give in flight, often when they detect a predator. Compared to Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, their calls are intermediate in pitch—Ring-billed Gulls are higher pitched and Herring Gulls are lower pitched.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Find This Bird

In the summer, look for California Gulls breeding along inland lakes and rivers, as well as foraging in pastures or parking lots. In the winter they move to the coast where they spend time bathing, drinking, and resting near fresh water. Look for a rivermouth along the coast to find a roosting site. Here you will likely find several gull species, making it easier to judge size and study plumage. Look for a medium-sized gull with yellowish legs and a medium gray back. In flight, look for their deeper and quicker wingbeats than larger gulls, like Herring Gulls, but slower and shallower beats than smaller gulls, like Ring-billed Gulls.

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A Noble Vision of Gulls, Living Bird, Summer 2016.



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