Bonaparte’s Gulls -Winter 2018

They are definitely not your average dump-dwelling, garbagepicking, parking-lot French-fry-eating gull. In fact, they are notably, uniquely absent from garbage dumps.

by: Virginia Andrews

Now we see them, now we don’t. Call them a mystery gull, as if just identifying gulls were not mystery enough in the first place.

But Bonaparte’s Gulls – “Bonys” for short – can be a lovely addition to a winter birding trip. Small and delicate, they are at least two sizes down from the common Herring or Black-backed Gulls.

In the field, birders sort gulls first by size. Bonys are tiny, almost tern-like. Next come details: the dark “earmuffs” which are all that remain of the dark hoods they wear in summer, fine black lines edging the wing-tips or marking the tail. Juveniles show a dark “M” pattern across the back, while adults are a subtle gray. They have a dark bill and pinkish legs.

Identification can be tricky, which is why birders either love gulls or hate them. And Bonys are usually absent from most of our popular beaches in summer, making them an almost exclusively winter treat, or penance, with a sharp wind. There can be a few stragglers in the summer, but it is easy for them to disappear among the large raucous birds most people just lump together under the name “seagulls.” But here off Nantucket Bonys really do spend a lot of time at sea.


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