By Michael Burke on March 30, 2018
We had traveled to Cambridge, MD, to look for late winter waterfowl on the Choptank River, but instead I found myself looking at one of the true harbingers of spring.
No, it wasn’t a robin — many of which overwinter right here in Maryland. My gaze was fixed on a laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla), the raucous seagull that is an integral part of any summer beach scene on the East Coast, and a real springtime migrant.
We were in the parking lot of the Waterfront Park, and the gulls outnumbered the cars on that blustery March day last year. They were mostly ring-billed gulls, but four laughing gulls were there to announce the imminent arrival of spring.
Laughing gulls start to arrive in Maryland in mid-March annually. The biggest influx occurs in mid-April.
They arrive in the Chesapeake watershed already wearing their distinctive all-black heads.
Laughing gulls mate in late spring, incubate their eggs for three weeks and tend to their young for another month until they fledge.
By mid– to late-July, a new generation is on its way, and the parents begin to molt into their “winter” plumage, and the black hood gives way to a white head with smudged patches of gray. It takes the brown juveniles three years to reach their adult colors.