Bonaparte's Gulls Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015While recording audio for film projects this past week I was wonderfully surprised to come upon this small flock of the beautiful and graceful Bonaparte’s Gulls feeding at low tide!.Bonaparte's Gull winter plumage Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015Bonaparte's Gull Massachusetts Diving ©Kim Smith 2015

The water was very clear and I think in the above photo you are seeing not the gull’s reflection, but its open mouth plunge for tiny shrimp.

Bonaparte's Gulls Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015

Non-breeding plumage.

Bonaparte’s Gulls are exquisite creatures to observe. Appearing to delight in riding the waves, they twirl every which way before diving for krill.

In this flock you can see very clearly the changing feather patterns from breeding to non-breeding, with the signature charcoal gray smudge behind the ear on the gull on the left. Typically by mid-August they have gained their winter plumage. During breeding season the feathers of the hood become entirely black.

We see Bonaparte’s Gulls in Massachusetts in spring on their northward migration to the boreal forests of Alaska and Canada and again in the summer as they return to winter grounds along the Gulf of Mexico and southern Great Lakes region. I at first thought that these were Laughing Gulls but the pinkish-orange feet and legs and buzzy vocalizations tell us otherwise.

I ran into my friend and long-time Annisquam resident Hank Junker on Lighthouse Beach and he reports that every summer he sees at least one Bonaparte’s at Lighthouse Beach or the adjacent Cambridge Street Beach. Hank also mentioned that they are typically here earlier in the summer, around the first week of August.

Bonaparte's Gull Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015

Black wing-tips and pink-orange feet suggest Bonaparte’s Gulls

Bonaparte's Gull -Ring-backed Gull Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015

Ring-billed Gull in the background, Bonaparte’s in the fore.

The Bonaparte’s Gull is about half the size of the Ring-billed Gull. I have learned to observe closely groups of gulls because different species sometimes feed together and you never know what fascinating bird may be amongst the flock.

Bonaparte's Gull Diving ©Kim Smith 2015

Bonaparte's Gull Diving -3 Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015The gulls are finding a smorgasbord at dawn’s low tide, feeding on krill and other crustaceans.   They get into tussles over feeding turf and, with a flourish of wings and a sharp, rasping “keh-keh,” they give each other the business, in no uncertain terms!

Two more photos here

Bonaparte's Gull Annisquam Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015Annisquam Lighthouse ©Kim smith 2015Annisquam Lighthouse at Daybreak

Several more photos from the following day ~

Bonaparte's Gulls Cape Ann Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015Bonaparte's Gulls Annisquam Lighthouse ©Kim Smith 2015


    1. Thanks so much Mike; nor had I. They are feeding with Ring-billed gulls, which are similar in color but larger. If you see a flock of Ring-billeds at this time of year, the Bonaparte’s may very well be amongst the group.


  1. Excellent thanks Kim! Very nice and they are so fun to watch with tosh up kicking up for balance and to get down there…Breath holders always aware of their surroundings too! I had one land on my shoulder fishing off break wall Lanes Cove “sort of scared me at first” but then we just both looked at each other and continued on with the fishing stayed about 5 -10 mins then on way – like waiting to see what I reeled in! 🙂 Dave & Kim 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. They allow you to get so close is because of your connection to your surrounds and they sense the great spirit from within a messenger! We also learned from the old fisherman (Wisdom Keepers) when reeling in around gulls on break wall or water keep the fish well below the water line if skimming the top gull will come in and try to scoop and go and if they swallow the hook bad results all the way around!

        Keep up the Excellent work and I enjoy the walks too without even being there (Which of course I cannot explain that in words you have to live it real world and stays resident in spirit)! happy Labor day 🙂 Dave & Kim :-_

        Liked by 1 person

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