BONAPARTE’S GULL – (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)
The Bonaparte’s gull is a small gull at around 35 cm (14 in.) long, and is widespread across its North America territory. Both sexes are similar, but the juveniles look different, with a black band along the tail and a black ‘M’ mark on the underside of the wings when seen from below (see photo). This gull has a black head (hood) in breeding plumage. The bill is black and the legs are pinkish orange. The neck, breast and under parts are white and the wings are grey with black wingtips.
Because of its small size the Bonaparte’s gull can be confused with a tern, but the latter have longer wings and a long, forked tail. It can also be confused with the Black-headed gull, but the latter has a red bill and is much less frequent in PEI.
The Bonaparte’s gull eats insects, and is known to prey on termites, especially when those insects emerge in swarms and fly in search of new territories. They also prey on salmon eggs and dive to get at them. Overall their diet is varied.
What’s in a name: this gull got its name from a French ornithologist (a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) who first identified it in Philadelphia in the USA. The Latin name ‘Chroicocephalus’ actually comes from the Greek and means ‘color’, and ‘head’. This bird is part of the ‘hooded’ gull group, gulls with a black head.
The Bonaparte’s gull is very common in PEI in the fall and common in the summer, however it does not breed on the island, rather in the western part of Canada mainly. It migrates to the whole of USA and also to north east Mexico and the Caribbean.