Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Bonaparte's Gull - Chroicocephalus philadelphia
LARIDAE Members:
Search Common:                 Search Scientific:
General Comments Of the six species of "black-headed gulls" on the North Carolina state list (along with Laughing, Franklin's, Black-headed, Little, and Sabine's), the Bonaparte's is the only one that is reasonably common in the winter season. Of course, all of these species lose the black head in basic plumage. Bonaparte's Gulls must be carefully scrutinized to search for two rarer species -- both primarily Old World species -- the Black-headed Gull and the Little Gull. Unlike most of our gulls, the Bonaparte's is not limited primarily to the coastal area, but small to moderate numbers occur in winter on the larger reservoirs. It is most often seen over the inshore ocean, even offshore, picking at food items from the water surface often while in flight; it does occur over sounds, inlets, and at brackish and freshwater pools and impoundments, but largest numbers are seen over the ocean itself. Long placed in the genus Larus with nearly all other gull species, including the white-headed ones, the American Ornithologists' Union Checklist Committee in 2008 moved all of the black-headed species into non-Larus genera, and this species was placed into the new genus Chroicocephalus.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S5N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Transient and winter resident. Coastally, fairly common to very common in winter along the northern half of the coast, with numbers building through the winter to peak in Feb and often Mar; less common, mostly fairly common southward by Jan, and can be common by Feb. In the Tidewater zone, mostly uncommon to locally common in winter, more numerous in late winter and over the sounds than at lakes. Farther inland, generally rare in winter, as few lakes are large enough for the species, but can be locally common at a few sites, such as at Goldsboro. Mostly, late Sep to mid-May, but not numerous until Nov, and often not common until Jan or Feb, as birds pour southward after the freezing over of some of the Great Lakes. One at a Hatteras (Dare) yard on 21-22 Jun 2016 was quite out of season. Peak counts: 20,000, Cape Hatteras, 5 Mar 1994; 10,000, from Corolla to Cape Hatteras, 15-17 Feb 1985. Peak inland: 300, Goldsboro, 5 Jan 1988.
Piedmont Transient and winter resident. Quite local and restricted in habitat, generally rare to uncommon over the province as a whole; however, at suitable large lakes/reservoirs, fairly common to common in winter, numbers not necessarily increasing in late winter as is seen along the coast. Largest wintering populations occur at Falls/Beaverdam Lakes, Jordan Lake, Lake Norman, and Tuckertown/Blewett Falls lakes (along the Yadkin River). Usual dates are mid-Nov to early May, with peak numbers in Dec - Feb. Peak counts: 500 (peak count), Jordan Lake, winter of 1995-1996; 400, Blewett Falls Lake, 22 Dec 1983.
Mountains Transient. At suitable moderate to large bodies of water, rare to locally uncommon in fall and early winter, and uncommon and erratic in spring, with a few exceptional counts at that season. Mostly late Nov to mid-Dec, and early Mar to mid-Apr. There appear to be no published records for Jan or Feb and thus there is no hint of birds attempting to overwinter on mountain lakes. Peak counts: 300, Transylvania, 30 Mar 1994; 150, Lake Julian, 30 Mar 1974.
Finding Tips Although it can be missed on some coastal birding trips in early winter, it is normally easy to find in mid- to late winter, especially along the inshore ocean. Occurrence on large reservoirs is sporadic; they may be absent on some days and common on others.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-13], LeGrand[2016-12-22], LeGrand[2012-06-04]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.