Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Lesser Black-backed Gull - Larus fuscus
LARIDAE Members:
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General Comments Hardly any other gull species' status in North Carolina has changed as rapidly over the last 20-30 years as has the Lesser Black-backed Gull. Formerly considered a rare winter visitor, along with the Iceland and Glaucous gulls, this European species has "taken off" as a wintering species in the eastern part of North America, even though it still has not been confirmed as a breeding bird in North America (outside of Greenland), except recently in Maine. At any rate, the species is now uncommon to locally common along the coast in the cooler months, and inland birds are showing up more frequently, though there are just two records for the mountains. Its habits are very similar to other gulls, foraging around the inshore ocean, coastlines, fish houses, etc., and roosting during the day within large flocks of gulls, especially Herring Gulls, on sand flats.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S3N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter visitor/resident, greatly increasing in recent years. Formerly (prior to about 1990), rare along the northern and central coast, and very rare to rare in the southern portions. However, by 2023, it is fairly common to often common (Cape Hatteras area) along the northern coast, uncommon to at times fairly common along the central coast, and uncommon in the southern coastal areas. Uncommon in the Tidewater zone. Very rare to locally uncommon farther inland, with at least 20 such inland records, though most are from Wayne and Wilson. Occurs mainly from late Sep to early Apr, though scattered records all summer. Unlike most other "rare" gulls, numbers can now been seen by mid-fall. Peak counts: 2,500, Cape Hatteras Point, 15 Nov 2022; 1,463, Cape Hatteras CBC, 27 Dec 2021; "up to 1000" at Ocracoke Island (Hyde) in mid-Oct 2021; 600, Cape Hatteras Point, 26 Oct 2014; 578, Cape Hatteras CBC, 27 Dec 2013; 491, Cape Hatteras CBC, 27 Dec 2016; 330, north end of Ocracoke Island, 12 Oct 2013; 282, Cape Hatteras CBC, 27 Dec 2015; 160, Cape Hatteras Point, 11 Dec 2008; 150, same area, on the early date of 8 Oct 2006. Peak far inland counts: 424, Buckhorn Reservoir (Wilson), 2 Feb 2020; 340, Buckhorn Reservoir, 21 Mar 2021; 310, 8 Mar 2020; 307, Buckhorn Reservoir, 27 Mar 2018; 112, Buckhorn Reservoir, 9 Feb 2018; 67 in a field near Hobgood (Halifax) on 8 Feb 2015; 41 in a field along US 258 in Halifax on 13 Feb 2013.
Piedmont Winter visitor/resident. Rare to locally uncommon, but greatly increasing, at large lakes and landfills in the Triangle area and in the Roanoke Rapids area. Very rare to rare (but increasing) west of Jordan Lake, sparingly west to Wilkes and Alexander, but many Piedmont lakes in the western half of the province still lack records. Probably resident all winter at the Wake landfill. Mostly early Nov to early Apr; casually from early Oct to mid-May. One at Lake Norman (Mecklenburg) on 15 Aug 2020 was remarkably early for an inland site. Peak counts: a remarkable 645 counted at Jordan Lake on 18 Mar 2023, with other counts there in 2023 being 400 on 23 Mar and 177 on 9 Mar. Other high counts: 71, Harris Lake (Wake), 6 Mar 2021; 40, Harris Lake, 29 Feb 2024; 39, Jordan Lake, 25 Feb 2018; 36, Jordan Lake, 4 Apr 2020; 31, Jordan Lake, 27 Feb 2022; 24, Lake Townsend (Guilford), 30 Jan 2020.
Mountains Casual. The only records are a first-year bird photographed at the Hooper Lane Sod Farms (Henderson) on 7 Oct 2015, and remaining through 6 Nov 2015* [Chat 80:15 link], [Chat 80:38 link]; and an adult photographed at Lake Junaluska (Haywood) on 16-17 Sep 2018, following the passage of Hurricane Florence [Chat 83:27 link]. However, records are expected to increase over the next few years, such that the species should not be considered as "casual" much longer.
Finding Tips This species is easy to find in the large gull flocks that congregate at Cape Hatteras Point from late fall to early Mar. Often, a few dozen or more may be found in that vicinity. Smaller numbers may be found along most of the coast, the farther north the easier to find. Many are found by scanning perched gull flocks along the beaches. Inland, Jordan Lake and Buckhorn Reservoir, less so Harris Lake (Wake), are good places to look.
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Attribution LeGrand[2024-05-13], LeGrand[2023-08-10], LeGrand[2023-03-18]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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