Monday 4 January 2016

A 10.5 year old Glaucous Gull

On Christmas Day 2015 Vernon Buckle noticed one of the 200 gulls, nearly all Glaucous Gulls, at the local dump for Forteau, Labrador was colour banded.  Forteau is at southern most Labrador on the Strait of Belle Isle, near the Quebec border.  There was dark green band on the right leg and a pale green band on the left leg.  The bands were not numbered and there was no metal band.

It just so happened I had been through a similar situation a couple times before at the St. John's landfill. It took less than two hours after emailing Amie Black at Environment Canada, (CWS) in Ottawa to get the low down on Vernon's colour banded Glaucous.  It was banded as a chick in the summer of 2005 on Coats Island at the mouth of Hudson Bay. So the bird  was 10 1/2 years old. Not a surprising age or surprising location but still interesting to know.  BUT as it turned out CWS records showed that I had photographed the same bird in March 2006 at the St John's landfill! Again not a surprising location but still fascinating to know the travel and age of at least one single Glaucous Gull out there.

Vernon Buckle's photograph of the green banded Glaucous Gull at t.he dump near Forteau, Labrador on 25 December 2015.  Still present as of today (4 Jan 2016)

The same bird in its first year of dump life at St John's, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland on 12 March 2006.

Glaucous Gull is a common gull in the Arctic. It winters commonly off Labrador and eastern Newfoundland.  Here in St. John's we are quite spoiled by an abundance of Glaucous Gulls.  Glaucous Gull being king scavengers learn quickly about dumps.  The proportion of GLGU to other gulls at the St. John's dump is miles out of whack with gulls anywhere else on the Avalon. 

Glaucous Gulls live on the ice when it is there. I spent six complete winters at L'Anse-aux-Meadows on the northern tip of the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland.  From January to March Glaucous Gull was the only gull you saw if you saw any gulls at all in the frozen world. Even Iceland Gulls were 'soft' gulls in the world of nearly continuous sea ice in winter. Of course with the right NE storm another gull-like bird that can't live without ice, the Ice Partridge (a,k.a Ivory Gull) was prevalent for hours at a time during most, but not all winters.

Winter Glaucous Gulls have much whiter heads than 99% of Herring Gulls and the majority of Iceland Gulls in winter.  Greenland and Eurasian Glaucous Gulls have on average more heavily streaked heads in winter than eastern North American GLGUs . Both of these birds (above and below this caption) were photographed during the height of winter head streaking on 3 Jan 2016 at St. John's. The pink base to the bill is bog standard on winter adult GLGU and unique among adult gulls in Newfoundland and Labrador.


A shot of the birds that thrive on the sea ice off Newfoundland and Labrador. Some have shorter legs than the others.  Feb 2010, Goose Cove, Newfoundland.


  1. Why does that 2006 Glaucous Gull have an all-red tail?

  2. Bruce Mactavish,

    This is an intriguing story, like so many of your accounts. Thank you for the write-up, the photos, and your blog in general. I turn to your blog at least once a week from southern New Jersey (partly inspired by one very wonderful trip to NF twelve years ago) and I enjoy your blog more than any other birding blog I know.

    Keep up the exploring, the photography, and the careful attention to birds of NF!

    Jack Connor
    Port Republic, NJ

  3. some have shorter legs than others. that's awesome


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