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Features: On the Wing

For ring-billed gulls, color of feathers is often ‘so last year’

Identifying gulls has flummoxed many a birder, including me. Gulls take several years to reach their adult feathers. Getting there involves a complicated progression through such mysterious plumages as juvenile, first alternate, second basic, and third alternate before ending in their definite phases. For years, rather than hazarding a guess on a specific species, I have entered the generic “gull species” on my checklist.

We were confronted with this problem a few Januarys ago while birding at Shorter’s Wharf on the edge of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge outside Cambridge, MD. A group of gulls was loafing along the shore during a clear, cold morning.

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About On the Wing

Observing the birds of our region brings perspective about their lives, and ours.

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