Larus atricillalaughing gull

Geographic Range

The Laughing Gull is a coastal bird found from Nova Scotia to Venezuela. (Peterson, 1998) Except around the Salton Sea, the Laughing Gull is rarely found inland. (Scott, 1987) It also ranges from southeastern California to western Mexico, and winters as far north as southern United States to Venezuela. (Peterson, 1980)


Laughing Gulls prefer nesting on barrier beaches and estuarine islands with moderate to dense vegetation. (Arnold and Golder 1997)

Physical Description

As a juvenile, the Laughing Gull has a complete tail band, gray wash on the nape, dark brown wings, and a brown head and body. During its first winter, the Laughing Gull acquires a slate gray color on its back and sides, but keeps all other characteristics. A second summer bird has a partial hood and some spotting on the tail. As it approaches its second winter, the Laughing Gull looks similar to the second summer bird, except that it lacks a hood, and has gray wash on the sides of its breast. During breeding, the Laughing Gulls' plumage has a black hood, white under-parts, and slate gray wings with black outer primaries. (Scott, 1987)

  • Average mass
    275.6 g
    9.71 oz


The Laughing Gull is a colonial breeder that may nest with other gulls or terns. Nests are found primarily along coastal bays, salt marshes, and estuaries. Sometimes they can be found near agricultural and industrial areas. Nests are five centimeters high and eight centimeters wide, and are constructed of sticks and grass. Laughing Gulls have a typical clutch consisting of one to three olive-brown eggs with dark brown spots. (Patuxent Bird ID InfoCenter, 1998) The length of incubation is 20 days, and the Laughing Gull takes 35 days to fledge. The Laughing Gull only has one brood per breeding season. (Patuxent Bird Population Studies, 1998)

  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    20 days



Laughing Gulls are noisy, aggressive, quarrelsome birds who often steal the prey of other birds. They also feed on the eggs and young of other birds, including those of their own kind. The Laughing Gull is also a very sociable bird that migrates, rests, hunts, and scavenges with other Laughing Gulls. The Laughing Gull is named for its call, which sounds like, "Ha ha ha". (Honolulu Zoo, 2000)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The Laughing Gull has a highly varied diet. It is a carnivore as well as a scavenger. In the wild, it will eat insects, fish, shellfish, and crabs. (Patuxent Wildlife Center, 1998) They can get their food from the water while they are airborne by either skimming the surface or diving. (Patuxent Bird ID InfoCenter, 1998) The Laughing Gull is not the most efficient fisherman, and often steals food from pelicans or terns after they have made a catch. (Honolulu Zoo, 2000) The Laughing Gull also gets food from man-made sources such as garbage, sewage, refuse from fishing boats, and anything tossed to them by humans. (Patuxent Bird ID InfoCenter, 1998)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Laughing Gulls are often found near and around airports. Sometimes this can be dangerous not only to the bird, but to the planes trying to land and take off. At the JFK airport in New York, the Laughing Gull and other birds get sucked into the planes' engines, causing significant damage to the plane. Many methods have been tried in order to convince the gulls not to enter the airspace; noise cannons, intimidating pictures of predatory owls, and recordings of "distressed gulls," have all been used. As a last resort, sharpshooters were brought in to keep the Laughing Gulls away. In the summer of 1996, the airport's wildlife biologist had expert trainers fly falcons and hawks at the gulls. The point of this was to chase away the gulls and not to kill them. (Mittlebach and Crewsdon 1997)

Conservation Status

At one time, the Laughing Gull was hunted and killed for its fine plumage which was then used by milliners to make hats. Over the years, it has been protected, and is no longer threatened. (Snyder, 1998)


Stephanie Jahnke (author), Milford High School, George Campbell (editor), Milford High School.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


uses sight to communicate


Arnold, O., W. Golder. 1997. "Laughing Gull" (On-line). Accessed December 19, 2000 at

Honolulu Zoo, 2000. "Laughing Gull" (On-line). Accessed December, 10, 2000 at

Mittelbach, M., M. Crewsdon. 1997. "Airport '97: The strange nature of JFK" (On-line). Accessed December 10, 2000 at

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, 1998. "Laughing Gull" (On-line). Accessed (Date Unknown) at

Peterson, R. 1980. A Field Guide to the Birds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Scott, S., L. Swinson, M. Dickinson, C. Howell. 1987. Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Society.

Snyder, W. 1998. "Laughing Gull" (On-line). Accessed 1-6-01 at