These birds are quite common in Sarasota, and can often be seen with non-breeding colors with the head less black and more mottled gray.
The laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) is a medium-sized gull of North and South America. Named for its laugh-like call, it is an opportunistic omnivore and scavenger. It breeds in large colonies mostly along the Atlantic coast of North America, the Caribbean, and northern South America. The two subspecies are: L. a. megalopterus – which can be seen from southeast Canada down to Central America, and L. a. atricilla which appears from the West Indies to the Venezuelan islands. The laughing gull was long placed in the genus Larus until its present placement in Leucophaeus, which follows the American Ornithologists' Union.
The genus name Leucophaeus is from Ancient Greek λευκός : leukós, "white", and φαιός : phaios, "dusky". The specific atricilla is from Latin atra, "black", " unlucky" or "malevolent" and cilla, "tail".
According to the Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names, Linnaeus may have intended to write atricapilla (black-haired), which would have been more appropriate, as the bird has a black head and white tail.
It breeds on the Atlantic coast of North America, the Caribbean, and northern South America. Northernmost populations migrate farther south in winter, and this species occurs as a rare vagrant to western Europe. The laughing gull's English name is derived from its raucous kee-agh call, which sounds like a high-pitched laugh "ha... ha... ha...".
Laughing gulls breed in coastal marshes and ponds in large colonies. The large nest, made largely from grasses, is constructed on the ground. The three or four greenish eggs are incubated for about three weeks.
This species is easy to identify. It is 36–41 cm (14–16 in) long with a 98–110 cm (39–43 in) wingspan and a weight range of 203–371g (7.2-13.1 oz). The summer adult's body is white apart from the dark grey back and wings and black head. Its wings are much darker grey than all other gulls of similar size except the smaller Franklin's gull, and they have black tips without the white crescent shown by Franklin's. The beak is long and red. The black hood is mostly lost in winter.
Laughing gulls take three years to reach adult plumage. Immature birds are always darker than most similar-sized gulls other than Franklin's. First-year birds are greyer below and have paler heads than first-year Franklin's, and second-years can be distinguished by the wing pattern and structure.
- L. a. megalopterus – (Bruch, 1855): coastal southeast Canada, eastern & southern United States, Mexico & Central America
- L. a. atricilla – (Linnaeus, 1758): West Indies to Venezuelan islands
Egg, Collection Museum Wiesbaden
Laughing Gulls following a shrimp boat off the coast of Jacksonville Florida
- BirdLife International (2012). "Larus atricilla". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2013.old-form url
- Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 59, 224. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
- "Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla)". Handbook of the Birds of the World. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
- "Laughing Gull Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology". www.allaboutbirds.org. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
- Burger, Joanna (4 March 2020). "Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla)". Birds of the World.
- "Check-list of North American Birds". North American Classification Committee. American Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 2009-05-26.
- Remsen, J. V. Jr.; C. D. Cadena; A. Jaramillo; M. Nores; J. F. Pacheco; M. B. Robbins; T. S. Schulenberg; F. G. Stiles; D. F. Stot; K. J. Zimmer. "A classification of the bird species of South America". South American Classification Committee. American Ornithologists' Union. Archived from the original on 2009-03-02. Retrieved 2009-05-26.
- Laughing Gull - Larus atricilla - USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter
- Laughing Gull Species Account - Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- Field Guide on Flickr
- Laughing Gull Bird Sound at Florida Museum of Natural History
- "Laughing Gull media". Internet Bird Collection.
- Laughing Gull photo gallery at VIREO (Drexel University)
- Interactive range map of Leucophaeus atricilla at IUCN Red List maps