Franklins Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan)

Franklins Gull

[order] CHARADRIIFORMES | [family] Laridae | [latin] Leucophaeus pipixcan | [UK] Franklins Gull | [FR] Mouette de Franklin | [DE] Prariemowe | [ES] Gaviota de Franklin | [NL] Franklins Meeuw


Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

The Franklin’s Gull is a small gull of wetlands in the interior of North America. In breeding plumage, this species has a black hood and a dark red bill with a black mark near the tip. The dark gray of the back extends to the upperpart of the wings. The underparts of the bird, including the wings, are white. The hindneck, the area between the black hood and the gray back, is also white. The underparts are sometimes tinged with pink, a coloration that earned the species the early name of Rosy or Prairie Dove. The legs are brownish-black or dusky. Broad white arcs directly above and below the black eye are apparent during the breeding season. The gray wings are tipped with a white band, then a black margin, and ultimately with large white primary ends.

In non-breeding plumage, the species loses the redness in the bill, and it becomes black. The black hood is reduced to an area from the eye to the back of the head, revealing a white forehead, throat, and splotchy crown. The bird averages 37 cm long with a wingspan of 91 cm; the male tends to be slightly larger than the female.

The most likely species with which the Franklin’s Gull could be confused is the Laughing Gull. The Franklin’s Gull is slightly smaller, with proportionately smaller legs and bill. The bill is thinner and does not droop at the tip as it does on the Laughing Gull. The arcs of white around the Franklin’s Gull’s eye are more apparent as are the large white primary tips of the wings; the wingtips on the Laughing Gull have white on them, but the white is small and is not always evident. Differentiating the Franklin’s Gull from the Bonaparte’s can be made by several distinguishing features. The Franklin’s is larger; the bill color is red in the Franklin’s compared to black in the Bonaparte’s; and unlike the indistinct white around the Bonaparte’s eye, the white eye-arcs of the Franklin’s are obvious

Listen to the sound of Franklins Gull

[audio: Gull.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 91 cm wingspan max.: 97 cm
size min.: 32 cm size max.: 34 cm
incubation min.: 24 days incubation max.: 25 days
fledging min.: 31 days fledging max.: 25 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 3  


North America : Central


Preferring large, relatively permanent prairie marsh complexes, the Franklin’s Gull builds its nests over water on a supporting structure of emergent vegetation. Typical water depth is 30 to 60 cm. Nesting over water differs from the nesting habits of other, generally ground nesting, gulls. Franklin’s Gulls prefer to nest at sites with intermediate vegetation density, interspersed with open water of various sizes. Preferred nesting sites within a wetland can change from year to year because of changes in water level and associated changes in vegetation. One key feature of selected nesting sites is that the water levels remain high enough throughout the nesting period, or at least until the young can fledge, in order to provide protection from predators. During migration, the Franklin’s Gull can be found feeding on dry land, especially in cultivated fields prior to planting.


Nest density ranged from 5 to 111 nests per 0.1 acre plot. Nests are typically 0.6 to 2.5 m apart. They are made of piled vegetation, usually whatever is closest; material is added throughout the nesting period up to fledging. The nests were constructed, either built from the lake bottom, or floating but anchored to emergent vegetation. The nest diameter averaged 58 cm early in incubation; additional material increases the nest size throughout the nesting period. Franklin’s Gull may nest in association with other colonial nesting species including: White-faced Ibis, Black-crowned Night-heron, and Eared Grebe.

Feeding habits

Franklin’s Gull eats mostly insects and earthworms, but will also take small fish, especially in winter. Young birds start their lives on a diet of earthworms, but soon add other foods


Global population trends have not been quantified; at the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma, the population has been reported to have declined from 3,000,000 individuals in 1950 to 15,000 in 1990, but this decline rate does not appear to have been mirrored elsewhere, and even at Salt Plains NWR peak counts since 1991 have frequently reached 60,000 birds. Therefore, the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Franklins Gull status Least Concern


Migratory. This and Sabine?s Gull the only Holarctic species of Laridae to winter mainly south of Equator. From inland breeding grounds on prairies of Canada and USA, migrates south overland on broad front between Rocky Mountains and Mississippi valley; a few penetrate east to Lake Erie in autumn, though only vagrant to Atlantic provinces and states. Small numbers winter in northern Gulf of Mexico; also recorded then from Caribbean coast of Panama and Puerto Rico in small numbers, though these suggest that it is more than casual there. Winters mainly on Pacific coasts from Guatemala to Chile.
Migration pattern, including extreme rarity in eastern Americas, suggests transatlantic vagrancy unlikely especially since late-autumn tropical storms do not bring the species to Bermuda or north-east USA. Widespread European records, however, scattered throughout the year, with no obvious peak.

Distribution map

Franklins Gull distribution range map

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