Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
California Gull - Larus californicus
LARIDAE Members:
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General Comments Despite this being a very common to locally abundant nesting bird in the Canadian and United States "prairie pothole" region and other interior lakes in the West, the California Gull was overlooked and/or not recorded in North Carolina until 1992. Since that year, one to several birds are reported almost each winter, though almost all of them are at Cape Hatteras Point (where duplication of records is likely owing to a particular bird perhaps returning over a several-year period). This increase in records can be attributed to a possible increase in numbers of the species, an increase in birders scanning the large gull flocks at Cape Hatteras, and more and better field guides (on gulls). This species has very similar habits and habitats to the Ring-billed Gull and the Herring Gull, though more often it occurs amid large flocks of Herring Gulls. California Gulls occur along the inshore ocean, tidal ponds, and inlets. They probably feed also at the sounds, but so far nearly all records are of perched birds resting at sand flats along the immediate coast. There are only two state records away from the immediate coast.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter visitor along the coast, with most records from Cape Hatteras Point. Typically occurs as single birds mixed with large flocks of other gull species; at least 36 records, including a few from offshore. Formerly rare though regular in the 1990's and 2000's winters at Cape Hatteras Point, very rare at Oregon Inlet, but casual farther south and north along the coast. For whatever reason -- perhaps expensive off-road driving permits now required at Cape Hatteras National Seashore -- reports have been scarce in the 2010's and 2020's, with singles photographed at Cape Point on 18 Mar and 6 Apr 2021 the first reports in seven years. An adult was seen at Cape Point in the winter of 2021-2022. Also, one "inland" record for the Newport (Carteret) landfill, an adult seen 29-30 Jan 1993*. Normal dates: late Nov to late Mar. One adult at Pea Island NWR on 3 Aug 2007 [Chat 72:31 link], and another at Lockwood Folly Inlet, Brunswick, on 4 Aug 2002 [Chat 67:24-25 link] are exceptionally early, presuming correct identification. Peak counts: 4 (high one-day count), Cape Hatteras Point, winter 1994-95; 2 birds on five other dates.
Piedmont Accidental. The only record is of an adult seen at the Raleigh landfill on 22 Jan 2005* [Chat 69:80 link].
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips To see this species in the state, one should be in an ORV at Cape Hatteras Point in winter, carefully perusing the gull flocks from inside the vehicle. (Being in a vehicle allows much closer inspection of gulls, as a vehicle is like a bird blind; birds are more wary when they see people outside a vehicle and will flush at a greater distance.)
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-14], LeGrand[2022-04-25], LeGrand[2021-09-03]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.