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The Ivory Bill·Birds·Seabirds

Franklin’s Gulls, Leucophaeus pipixcan

Bonaparte's and Franklin's gulls together near the water.

Franklin’s Gulls are medium-sized gulls that breed in freshwater marshes and prairie wetlands in North America, particularly in Canada and the northern United States, from May to July.

Franklin’s Gulls are commonly found in large, dense marshes with abundant emergent vegetation, such as cattails and bulrushes, where insects like beetles and aquatic invertebrates are plentiful during the breeding season.

They forage in shallow wetlands, flooded fields, and along the edges of lakes and rivers for beetles, grasshoppers, dragonfly larvae, and small fish. They may also feed on earthworms, snails, and seeds.

Franklin’s Gulls display versatile foraging techniques, including picking insects from vegetation, skimming the water’s surface for fish, and following agricultural plows to catch disturbed insects. Their adaptability allows them to exploit a wide range of food sources in different habitats.

Courtship involves intricate displays where males present food to females and perform aerial acrobatics, including swooping flights and synchronized flying. Ground displays involve males puffing up their chests, fanning their tails, and calling persistently to attract a mate.

Nest building is a joint effort by both parents, who construct a floating platform nest from reeds, grasses, and other plant materials. Nests are typically anchored to emergent vegetation in shallow water to avoid predation and flooding.

Egg laying occurs from late May to early June, with the female usually laying two to three eggs. Both parents share incubation duties, which last about 23 to 26 days. Upon hatching, the chicks are semi-precocial and require significant parental care. Initial diets for chicks consist of regurgitated insects and small fish provided by the parents.

Chicks learn to forage by following their parents and imitating their foraging techniques. They face vulnerabilities such as predation by raccoons, mink, and birds of prey, as well as fluctuating water levels. Parental care includes leading chicks to food-rich areas, protecting them from predators, and teaching them to handle different prey.

Chick fledging occurs about 35 to 40 days after hatching, with continued guidance from adults as the chicks develop their foraging skills. Their diet evolves to include a broader range of insects and small aquatic animals as they grow and become more adept at foraging.

Franklin’s Gulls undertake long migratory journeys, leaving their breeding grounds in late August to early September. They follow specific flyways, traveling through the central United States and Mexico to reach wintering regions along the Pacific coast of South America, particularly in Peru and Chile.

Wintering habitats include coastal estuaries, beaches, and offshore waters, where they forage for small fish, crustaceans, and marine invertebrates. Their diet during winter is diverse, reflecting the variety of food available in these coastal and marine environments.

Franklin’s Gulls typically leave their wintering grounds in late February to early March, returning north to their breeding areas as the wetlands thaw and food becomes abundant, ensuring a rich supply of prey for the breeding season.