5 Mar 2015

The Most Common of Our Gulls is Leaving, but Will Be Back

Author: Jorge Ventocilla

The laughing gull or Larus atricilla, without question the most common of gulls in Panama, chooses the month of March for going back to its nesting territories along the coasts of the U.S., the Gulf of Mexico, the Bahamas and other islands in the Caribbean.  


It will travel again south of the U.S., all the way to Peru and the north of Brazil, as a returning migratory bird species. After being away for a year and a half, it would come back to Panama usually around September. Some non-breeding adult and juvenile birds may stay close to our coasts all year round.  


This bird is rather small, when compared to other species; weighing just above the half-pound mark.  Its beauty can be seen when it is in full flight, when its wide, angular wings can be easily seen. The laughing gull lives in coastal areas, marshes and salt lakes; it has also been seen close to fresh water sources, away from coastal areas (for example along the lakes of the Panama Canal). 


It can be seen in flocks of hundreds, sometimes in association with other gull species. I have seen them searching for food in urban settings like the transportation terminal (Terminal de Transporte). Could it be that they cannot find any food in their habitat?


They feed on fish and some aquatic invertebrates and can be found chasing crabs in muddy areas. Carrion and garbage are also part of their diet, which makes them a valuable aid in keeping things clean, as helpful as our friend the turkey vulture in mainland.  Lively and opportunistic as they are, they will try to steal fish from the pelicans, right from their beaks.


Its name is derived from the bird’s cackling call resembling a human laughing somewhat loudly. This is the call they use during their mating season; when they are most likely to be away from Panama. I have not had the chance of hearing their call, but some of my colleagues have. They mention that they have heard them shortly before they travel to their nesting areas, in March.