Hybrid Black-headed X Ring-billed Gull (?), Woodburne, Sullivan Co., NY, 22 February 2002.
All pictures were taken by my son Jay and me and are © Kevin J. McGowan. They were taken with an Olympus D-450 digital camera through a Swarovski HD80 spotting scope.
On a hunt for the Slaty-backed Gull reported in Sullivan Co., NY, Jay and I went to the area, along with Steve Kelling and Jeff Wells. We did not find the Slaty-back, but Jeff Wells discovered this bird in a flock of Ring-billed Gulls in a stream at Woodburne. We first thought it was a Black-headed Gull, Larus ridibundus, based primarily on its red bill, hood shadow, and small size. On closer inspection, however, it didn't have the right head shape or markings for that species, but showed a much rounder head, wrongly positioned black on the head, and in flight lacked the dark underside of the primaries with black crossing the wingtip instead.
We watched it on the stream only a minute or three, and Jay managed to shoot 11 photos before it flew. We found it in a field later in the day and took a little video of it flying.
We guessed Black-headed X Ring-billed Gull, a combination reported once before from a New York Ring-billed Gull breeding colony on Little Galloo Island in Lake Ontario in 1982 (see Weseloh, D. V., and P. Mineau. 1986. Apparent hybrid Common Black-headed Gull nesting in Lake Ontario. American Birds 40: 18-20.). This bird looks somewhat similar to the published photos of that breeding-plumaged bird, but has a different head shape and perhaps shorter wingtips.
Ned Brinkely suggested that we consider 2nd winter Mediterranean Gull, Larus melanocephalus, and to my eye the head shape and markings fit that species nicely (at least the photographs I've been able to find; I have no experience with the species). The white spots to the primary tips are perhaps too small.
The best we could with it in flight were the following video grabs. We're not talking about many pixels here, but they clearly show a black band across the wingtip on the underside. Not so clear are the suggestions of darkish under the primaries (compared to the secondaries and wing linings, at least), and the hint of a white triangle in the outermost primaries. On the upper side of the wing the tip does not appear to be crossed by black, but the tips of the feathers are black, and again, a white triangle is suggested.
I like this shot of it doing a bill-up display along with the Ring-billed Gull.
Steve Kelling took the following shot while it was foraging in the field, which shows the rather square back of the head.
I put together these head shots of the possible parent species for comparison.
Valerie Freer took these two photos of the same bird on 13 March 2002 at a different location. They show the red legs that we did not capture.
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