Gulls can be gorgeous.  Gulls can also be not very gorgeous at all.  In summer, when feathers are worn and younger birds are molting into their next plumage, gulls can be downright ugly.  They can also, because of their odd appearance, be difficult to identify.  On a recent family trip to Jones Beach, on New York’s Long Island, I had the opportunity to observe a small flock of gulls bathing, resting, and preening in some shallow brackish water that had collected behind the beach. I was not only intrigued by their appearance but also astounded by the diversity that they showed, even within species.  The experience served to remind me why some people devolve into Larophiles but, don’t fear, I have not sunk to that low and disturbing condition myself (at least not yet).

Here, for example, are two birds in flight, both nearing their adult plumage, but both in that awkward phase that makes ugly ducklings look positively beautiful.

Ugly, right?  But also interesting in terms of what they can teach the careful observer about molt and aging.  Fortunately for you I am not a careful observer so you won’t be bored to tears in this blog post, at least not because of a detailed description of molt in gulls.  But if you want to discuss molt in the comments feel free. (Sicko!)

The next picture is neat because there are two species in it and 99% of the folks who were at the beach would not have known that.  Which one of these birds is not like the others?

Finally, I will share a bird that is so ugly that it cycled through ugly and came back to pretty.  Seriously.  What do you make of this one?

I need to go find some sparrows or some other species that are really easy to deal with…

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 and Desmond Shearwater. 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.