Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Black-headed Gull - Chroicocephalus ridibundus
LARIDAE Members:
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General Comments As mentioned under the Bonaparte's Gull account, the Black-headed Gull has a new scientific name, after decades being placed in the genus Larus. The common name has been changed in recent years, with the "Common" part of the name dropped in recent years by the American Ornithologists' Union. However, the common name is a poor one, as many other gull species have black heads in breeding plumage; in fact, this species' head feathering is actually a blackish brown! The Black-headed Gull is an Old World breeder that strays annually to North America, and usually one to several are reported along and near the North Carolina coast each winter. Black-headeds tend not to occur within large flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls, but instead are found by themselves or with small groups of other gulls (including Bonaparte's) at sewage treatment plants, outfall areas of lakes or ponds, inlets, and many other coastal sites, including brackish ponds and pools and sand flats. There are just a handful of far inland state reports.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter visitor, essentially only along the coast and in the Tidewater zone. Rare, and perhaps slightly increasing in recent decades, along the coast, and very rare in Tidewater; few records prior to 1980. One far inland record: one at the Goldsboro Wastewater Treatment Plant from 1-3 Nov 2008 [Chat 73:21 link]. Mainly mid-Nov to mid-Mar, but a number of records in Apr, the latest being 23 Apr; remarkably late was a first-summer bird at Mason Inlet (New Hanover), 23 May - 7 Jun 2015. Scattered fall records before mid-Nov. One seen at Fort Macon (Carteret), 10-22 Aug 1967 [Chat 32:28 link] is a remarkably early record. Peak counts: 3 at Cape Point, 4 Feb 2011; 2 birds on four occasions.
Piedmont Casual to very rare; six records. One adult seen in a flock of Bonaparte's Gulls at Jordan Lake on 16 Jan 2005* [Chat 69:80 link]; one seen and photographed at Falls Lake on 9-10 Dec 2010* [Chat 75:68 link]; one seen and photographed in Pineville (Mecklenburg), 8 Dec 2011 - 8 Jan 2012* [Chat 76:58 link]; an adult seen on Lake Norman near Cornelius, 16 Dec 2012* [Chat 77:55 link]; one seen at Lake Crabtree (Wake), 18 Apr 2020 [Chat 84:96 link]; and one in breeding plumage seen at Harris Lake (Wake), 13-20 Mar 2021 [Chat 85:120 link].
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips Black-headed Gulls are somewhat more likely to be found with Ring-billed Gulls than with other gulls, such as Bonaparte's. In fact, because it occurs in so many potential settings, it is impossible to intentionally search for one. Finding a Black-headed, thus, often requires patiently looking over large numbers of other gulls in harbors, landfills, dredge ponds, and on beaches.
Attribution LeGrand[2021-09-03], LeGrand[2020-08-03], LeGrand[2018-12-12]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.