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Description and morphology The Pacific gull is a large white-headed gull with a particularly heavy bill. They are generally uniform in shape, with heavy bodies, long wings, and moderately long necks. Gulls have moderately long legs, especially when compared to the similar terns, with fully webbed feet. The bill is generally heavy and slightly hooked, with the larger species having stouter bills than the smaller species.
The bill colour is often yellow with a red spot for the larger white-headed species and red, dark red or black in the smaller species. Indeed, they are the least specialised of all the seabirds, and their morphology allows for equal adeptness in swimming, flying, and walking. They are more adept walking on land than most other seabirds, and the smaller gulls tend to be more manoeuvrable while walking.
The walking gait of gulls includes a slight side to side motion, something that can be exaggerated in breeding displays. In the air, they are able to hover and they are also able to take off quickly with little space.
The wingtips of most species are black, which improves their resistance to wear and tear, usually with a diagnostic pattern of white markings. The head of a gull may be covered by a dark hood or be entirely white. The plumage of the head varies by breeding season; in nonbreeding dark-hooded gulls, the hood is lost, sometimes leaving a single spot behind the eye, and in white-headed gulls, nonbreeding heads may have streaking. List of Charadriiformes by population Swallow-tailed gulls are endemic to the Galapagos Islands.
The gulls have a worldwide cosmopolitan distribution. They breed on every continent, including the margins of Antarctica , and are found in the high Arctic, as well. They are less common on tropical islands, although a few species do live on islands such as the Galapagos and New Caledonia.
Many species breed in coastal colonies, with a preference for islands, and one species, the grey gull , breeds in the interior of dry deserts far from water. Considerable variety exists in the family and species may breed and feed in marine, freshwater, or terrestrial habitats. Other species move much shorter distances and may simply disperse along the coasts near their breeding sites. The food taken by gulls includes fish and marine and freshwater invertebrates, both alive and already dead, terrestrial arthropods and invertebrates such as insects and earthworms, rodents, eggs, carrion, offal, reptiles, amphibians, plant items such as seeds and fruit, human refuse, chips, and even other birds.
No gull species is a single-prey specialist, and no gull species forages using only a single method. The type of food depends on circumstances, and terrestrial prey such as seeds, fruit, and earthworms are more common during the breeding season while marine prey is more common in the nonbreeding season when birds spend more time on large bodies of water.
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Prey can be obtained in the air, on water, or on land. In the air, a number of hooded species are able to hawk insects on the wing; larger species perform this feat more rarely. Gulls on the wing also snatch items both off water and off the ground, and over water they also plunge-dive to catch prey.
Again, smaller species are more manoeuvrable and better able to hover-dip fish from the air. Dipping is also common when birds are sitting on the water, and gulls may swim in tight circles or foot paddle to bring marine invertebrates up to the surface.
Food is also obtained by searching the ground, often on the shore among sand, mud or rocks. Larger gulls tend to do more feeding in this way. In shallow water gulls may also engage in foot paddling. A method of obtaining prey unique to gulls involves dropping heavy shells of clams and mussels onto hard surfaces.
The time taken to learn foraging skills may explain the delayed maturation in gulls. To obtain prey from deeper down, many species of gulls feed in association with other animals, where marine hunters drive prey to the surface when hunting.
Divorce of mated pairs does occur, but it apparently has a social cost that persists for a number of years after the break-up. Gulls also display high levels of site fidelity , returning to the same colony after breeding there once and even usually breeding in the same location within that colony. Colonies can vary from just a few pairs to over a hundred thousand pairs, and may be exclusive to that gull species or shared with other seabird species.
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A few species nest singly, and single pairs of band-tailed gulls may breed in colonies of other birds. Within colonies, gull pairs are territorial , defending an area of varying size around the nesting site from others of their species. This area can be as large as a 5-m radius around the nest in the herring gull to just a tiny area of cliff ledge in the kittiwakes.
Gulls begin to assemble around the colony for a few weeks prior to occupying the colony. Existing pairs re-establish their pair-bonds, and unpaired birds begin courting. Birds then move back into their territories and new males establish new territories and attempt to court females. Gulls defend their territories from rivals of both sexes through calls and aerial attacks. Gull nests are usually mats of herbaceous matter with a central nest cup.
Species that nest in marshes must construct a nesting platform to keep the nest dry, particularly in species that nest in tidal marshes.
Both sexes gather nesting material and build the nest, but the division of labour is not always exactly equal. Clutch size is typically three eggs, although it is two in some of the smaller species and only one egg for the swallow-tailed gull. Within colonies, birds synchronise their laying, with synchronisation being higher in larger colonies, although after a certain point, this levels off.
The eggs of gulls are usually dark tan to brown or dark olive with dark splotches and scrawl markings, and are well camouflaged. Both sexes incubate the eggs, with incubation bouts lasting between one and four hours during the day and one parent incubating through the night. This means the first two chicks are born close together, and the third chick some time later. Young chicks are brooded by their parents for about one or two weeks, and often at least one parent remains with them, until they fledge , to guard them.
Both parents feed the chicks, although early on in the rearing period, the male does most of the feeding and the female most of the brooding and guarding. Some have traditionally been considered ring species , but recent evidence suggests that this assumption is questionable. Large white-headed gull is used to describe the 18 or so herring gull-like species from California gull to lesser black-backed gull in the taxonomic list below. Hybridisation between species of gull occurs quite frequently, although to varying degrees depending on the species involved.
The taxonomy of the large white-headed gulls is particularly complicated. This name is used informally to refer to a common local species or all gulls in general, and has no fixed taxonomic meaning.
List of species Gulls acquire food from humans both through handouts and theft This is a list of gull species , presented in taxonomic sequence.