Don’t Call Them “Seagulls”
One of the things that really annoys birders is when anyone calls a gull a “seagull.” There is no such thing. There are gulls. There are terns. Three species of gull and one species of tern breed in Interior Alaska, hundreds of miles from the nearest salt water.
By far the most common gull in the Interior is the Mew Gull.
Noisy, aggressive in defense of their nests and their young and adaptable to humankind, this species is what most people in the Interior think of when they hear the word “gull.” But there are two other gull species here.
Bonies, as WC calls them, are much less common than Mew Gulls, preferring boggy wetlands and marshes. On the water, they are very distinctive, rocking forward to feed. Their call is embarrassingly like a pet’s squeaky toy. Their kids can be hard to find, skulking in marshes, but WC stumbled across three recently.
The third gull in Interior Alaska is the much larger and heavier Herring Gull. (Sometimes the American Herring Gull; it’s not completely sorted out.)
A very large gull with a heavy bill marked with a red spot and reddish-pink legs, the Herring Gull is unmistakeable.
At the opposite end is the small, elegant Arctic Tern, the record-holder for annual migration, it winters in Antarctica.
It’s easy to tell the black-headed Arctic Tern from the black-headed Bonaparte’s Gull. The gull has a black bill; the Arctic Tern’s bill is fire engine red. And the Tern’s hood comes to the top of the bill where the Bonaparte’s extends under its chin.
Interior Alaska gets the occasional different gull, but not very often. If you learn these four, you’re pretty well set. But the most important thing to learn, the thing to really remember, is that they are gulls. Not “seagulls.”