Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Franklin's Gull - Leucophaeus pipixcan
LARIDAE Members:
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General Comments The Franklin's Gull, the "cousin" of the Laughing Gull, does not breed along the ocean coasts, but instead breeds in the interior of the continent at natural and man-made lakes, ponds, and marshes, where large numbers of other waterbird species also nest. As with nearly all other gulls, the species nests in good-sized colonies, and because it breeds in the central and western parts of the continent and winters essentially only along the Pacific coast of South America, it is scarce in the East, though in most recent years one to several are seen in North Carolina, both at the coast and inland. Also like most other gull species, either nesting populations are increasing, or there are more birders scrutinizing gull flocks, because this was a great rarity until late in the 20th Century. In the state, the species is found mainly along and near the coast, but essentially only in migration, as opposed to winter. Favored habitats in North Carolina are fresh to brackish ponds and impoundments, and on rare occasions in plowed fields; it typically does not feed in salt water. A major flight of this species reached the Atlantic coast in Fall 2015, and North Carolina got its share of records, including three inland sightings. A number of far inland records came in fall 2023.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Visitor/transient, essentially along the coast, and mostly in fall. Coastally, casual in spring, with records being of one in breeding plumage at Bald Head Island on 14 Mar 2002; one also in breeding plumage on Currituck Banks on 13 Apr 1987; one at Cedar Island (Carteret) on 23 May 2005; and one in breeding plumage at Cape Hatteras Point (Dare) on 15 May 2021. Very rare in fall along the coast; mainly mid-Oct to late Nov, though oddly there are no published Sep records. Casual in both the Tidewater region (about three records), and farther inland (four records). Strangely, two of the three far inland records are from Lake Auman (Moore): one on 1 Nov 1996, and two on 4 Nov 2000. Peak counts: (only) 2, on several occasions.
Piedmont Very rare visitor, now close to 20 records. Accidental in spring, with the only record being of one in breeding plumage at Greenview Farm (Wake) on 31 Mar - 1 Apr 1984 [Chat 49:17-18 link] (after severe storms and tornadoes). Fall records (15+) are: one collected on the Catawba River near Charlotte on 12 Oct 1952 (Pearson et al., 1959); 2, Jordan Lake, 24-25 Oct 2004 [Chat 69:52 link]; 1, Jordan Lake, 4-5 Nov 2006; 1, Jordan Lake, 15-23 Oct 2011; 6, Lake Hickory (Catawba), 13 Oct 2015; 1, Lake Townsend (Guilford), 13 Oct 2015; 1, Jordan Lake, 9 Nov 2015; 2, Jordan Lake, 24-27 Oct 2019; 1, Lake Norman, 1 Oct 2022; present at Jordan from 17 Oct - 13 Nov 2022, with 3 on 7 Nov; and 4, Lake Norman, 13 Nov 2022. In fall 2023, a number of records came from Jordan Lake from 18 Oct - 25 Nov, with a peak of three. Remarkably, there are at least three winter records, two from Lake Norman: an immature on 20 Dec 1998 [Chat 63:148 link]; and an adult photographed on 15 Dec 2013 [Chat 78:69 link]. One, probably the same bird, was seen at Jordan Lake on 9 and 14 Dec 2023. Peak counts: 6, Lake Hickory (see above); 4, Lake Norman, 18 Nov 2023; 3, Jordan Lake, 18 Nov 2023; 2 on two occasions.
Mountains Very rare visitor to the southern portion of the province. Nine records: 1 at Hooper Lane (Henderson) on 25 Nov 1998 [Chat 63:96 link]; 1 in breeding plumage at Hooper Lane on 26 Jun 2006 [Chat 70:129 link]; a remarkable 7 immatures [photographed] at Lake Junaluska (Haywood) on 9 Nov 2008 [Chat 73:21 link]; 1 at Hooper Lane on 5 Jul 2013 [Chat 77:154 link]; 1 at the Water Treatment Plant along NC 191 in Mills River (Henderson) on 29 Oct 2014; 1 photographed at Lake Julian (Buncombe) on 2 Dec 2015 for a first winter record for the province; 1 photographed near Brevard (Transylvania) on 18 May 2018; a truly remarkable group of 37 photographed over Ecusta Pond (Transylvania) on 2 Nov 2018; 1 at Lake Junaluska on 11 Nov 2023. The 37 individuals is the highest state one-day count, far surpassing the previous high state count of 7.
Finding Tips The species is too rare to intentionally search for. However, birders should be aware of the species' potential presence, especially among large flocks of Laughing Gulls along the coast in Oct or early Nov. The spring records have been of birds in alternate plumage.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-05-13], LeGrand[2024-02-10], LeGrand[2023-03-18]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.