My day Saturday was spent gulling the Niagara River, a most gull-friendly spot, especially in early winter. Three species were plentiful: Bonaparte’s Gull, Herring Gull, and Ring-billed Gull. I hiked down to the floor of the gorge at “The Whirlpool” and was amazed by the sheer number of Bonaparte’s Gulls that circled ceaselessly searching for fish while fishermen did the same from shore. Though my main goal for the day was looking for gulls I hadn’t seen yet for the year I spent quite some time photographing the “bonies.”

I saw few juveniles and none of the other small gulls that have black heads in breeding plumage (like Little Gull or Franklin’s Gull). But the thousands of non-breeding plumaged Bonaparte’s Gulls were a treat in and of themselves, especially when they made their duck-like call. Anyway, here are the fruits of my labors…

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

three Bonaparte's Gulls

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

two Bonaparte's Gulls, one with a fish

As you can see from the pictures above, adult, non-breeding “winter” plumaged Bonaparte’s Gulls lose their black hood but retain a black ear-patch. The white wedge on the leading edge of the wing and black tips on the primary feathers stay consistent from breeding to non-breeding plumage. Juveniles have pink legs and feet instead of the adults’ red-orange, a brown bar on the wing and a black tail-band. All plumages and ages have a thin black bill. In other words, Bonaparte’s Gulls are a lot like Black-headed Gulls, but with smaller black bills and light underwings.

And, by the way, Bonaparte’s Gulls aren’t named for that Bonaparte, but for his nephew, Charles Lucien Bonaparte, discoverer of both the Moustached Warbler and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel.

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their indoor cat, B.B. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.