- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Laridae
Bonaparte’s Gulls are sleek, small gulls that breed in the boreal forest and winter farther south on ocean coasts, lakes, and rivers. Adults have black heads and red legs in the summer; in winter they have a neat gray smudge near the ear. They fly with ternlike agility, flashing bright white primaries that form a distinctive white wedge in the upperwing. Bonaparte’s Gulls capture flying insects and pluck tiny fish from the water with equal ease. They are unusual among gulls in their use of trees for nesting.More ID Info
Find This Bird
In migration and winter, look for Bonaparte’s Gulls foraging for small fish on ocean waters or over lakes, rivers, or reservoirs—especially during changeable or foul weather. Pay attention to size (this is one of the smallest gulls in North America) and look for the adults’ distinctive white wedges in the wing. If you visit the far north in late May through July, scan spruces near water (especially on islands) for nesting pairs.
- Gaviota de Bonaparte (Spanish)
- Mouette de Bonaparte (French)
- Cool Facts
- Bonaparte's Gulls gather in large flocks that are worth a careful look—sometimes a rarer species is mixed in, such as a Little Gull, Black-headed gull, or very rarely a Ross’s Gull.
- The Bonaparte's Gull is the only gull species that regularly nests in trees.
- The common name of the Bonaparte’s Gull honors Charles Lucien Bonaparte, a cousin of Napoleon Bonaparte who made important contributions to American ornithology while an active member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia during the 1820s. The scientific name philadelphia was given in 1815 by the describer of the species, George Ord of Philadelphia, presumably because he collected his specimen there.
- During the breeding season, the Bonaparte's Gull feeds mainly on insects, often catching them on the wing.