Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2015-03a

Common name:

Laughing Gull

Scientific name: Leucophaeus atricilla
Date: Jan. 14, 2015
Time: 10:00 a.m.
Length of time observed: 1 hour and the next day a second time
Number: 1
Age: 1st winter juvenile
Sex: unknown
Location: Lee Kay Ponds
County: Salt Lake
Latilong: 5
Elevation: about 4200
Distance to bird: 50 yards
Optical equipment: binoculars, scope, and 500 mm camera and lens
Weather: Overcast, cloudy
Light Conditions: optimal for viewing gulls, (no harsh light), poor for photographs
Description:        Size of bird: slightly smaller than surrounding Ring-billed Gullls.
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Shaped like a Gull but more tern like in overall impression.
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Very dark and grayer than everything else out there.
(Description:)            Bill Type: Long dark and slightly decurved bill were very distinctive and unique looking.
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
The first thing that stood out, other than its smaller size, was the darkness of the bird and that it extended across the front of the breast. The other oddity was how long and drooped the bill looked. The neck had a partial collar that was white and the back of the neck matched the breast. When the bird flew it had a broad dark band along the base of the tail. All field marks, according to Sibley's and my Gulls of the Americas book, fit perfectly for a 1st winter Laughing Gull.
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery:  
Behavior: Avoided all the other gulls. Stayed on the edge of the group. When harassed it would leave the area.
Habitat: Partially frozen over pond near the Salt Lake dump. Popular spot for thousands of gulls every winter.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
The only similar species I considered was Franklin's Gull, which at this time of year would be even less likely considering where they winter. Before I got a good look I also considered Sabine's but that didn't fit at all. Especially when it flew. After seeing the white eye arcs I suspected Laughing Gull having seen them back east and expecting that some day one could show up in Utah. Franklin's was eliminated by the very gray breast, the broad dark band on the tail, and the bill shape and length. Head and wing pattern also seem spot on for Laughing Gull.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I have seen lots of Franklin's, plenty of Sabine's, and with a few trips to Florida I have seen Laughing Gulls in the masses.
References consulted: Gulls of the Americas and Sibley's
Description from: Notes taken at the time of the sighting
Observer: Matthew Pendleton
Observer's address: 1417 East Point Dr. Sandy, UT
Observer's e-mail address: **
Other observers who independently identified this bird: Lots. Over that day and the next few, dozens of birders chased this bird. I reported it on Ubird and through ebird. Once the word was out I think many chased it.
Date prepared: Prepared: Jan. 21, 2015
Additional material: Photos  
Additional_Comments: checklist: