Black-headed Gull (Laridus ridibundus) at Moraine State Park

Butler County, Pennsylvania

12 December 1998

I visited Moraine State Park on 12 December 1998. The Black-headed Gull appeared at 9:22 AM at the Pleasant Valley picnic area along with Bonaparte's Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls. I observed it until 11:12 AM. The following pictures were taken with a Fuji DX9 digital camera held up to the 32X wide angle objective of my spotting scope. The following is a report I will submit to the Pennsylvania Ornithological Records Committee to document the occurrence of the bird at Moraine State Park.

The Black-headed Gull is a native of Iceland and Eurasia and is rarely seen in Western Pennsylvania. The bird was not particularly cooperative in letting me get its picture. It spent a lot of time resting with its head tucked up under its wing. I finally did get to see it in flight and swimming for a brief period of time at around 10:35 to 11:00 PM. I shot a roll of 35 mm slides of the bird with another camera with a 500mm lens before attempting the digital pictures presented here. It is likely these are better than the slides since the magnification is greater.

The Black-headed Gull is in adult basic (winter) plumage, which means it does not have its characteristic hooded head. I do not have shots of the bird in flight (it would have been difficult to get a good picture), but I did observe it and noted the following traits. It displayed a pronounced white wedge on the front edge and tip of the upper wings. Black tipped the edges of the primaries of the upper wing. Underneath, most of the primaries were a darker gray, unlike the white displayed by Bonaparte's Gulls. The mantle was light gray and it had a bright, white tail. The following pictures show other typical field markings of the Black-headed Gull.



The Black-headed Gull is the upper bird in this photo and a Bonaparte's Gull is in the lower left for comparison. The Black-headed Gull has a reddish bill with a black tip. It is a decidedly different shade than the black bill of the Bonaparte's Gull below it. The Black-headed Gull is also noticeably larger than the Bonaparte's Gull. The Black-headed Gull has red legs, but this photo does not show them well since they are in shadow. The head of the Black-headed Gull has a black ear-spot with a light grayish line running around the back of its head to the other ear spot. There also is a grayish line running from the eye over the top of the head to the other eye.


The Black-headed Gull is in the upper center of this photo with a Ring-billed Gull in the lower right and a Bonaparte's Gull in the lower left for comparison. The reddish bill with a black tip can be contrasted to the black needle-like bill of the Bonaparte's in this picture. The Black-headed Gull is smaller than the Ring-billed Gull and larger than the Bonaparte's Gull.

The Black-headed Gull is preening in the middle of this picture. The reddish legs can be contrasted to the yellow legs of the Ring-billed Gull behind it.

Another view of the Black-headed Gull standing behind a Ring-billed Gull to show it is smaller than the Ring-billed Gull.

The Black-headed Gull is behind two Herring Gulls in this photo. This photo is included because the Black-headed Gull is preening and has exposed the blackish primaries on its underwing.

A rear-end view of the Black-headed Gull. The reddish legs are noticeable in this picture. However, even in this picture the real red color of the legs does not show up as well as looking at it "live." They really are a red leg and could easily be contrasted with the pinkish legs of immature Bonaparte's Gulls and sort of orange-red legs for adult Bonaparte's. The white end of the tail (the black is all on the upper primaries of the wing) indicates it is an adult since an immature Black-headed Gull would have a black band across the end of its tail.

The Black-headed Gull has stayed at Moraine State Park for over a week and hopefully it will hang around so other birders can see it.

Mark McConaughy


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