Tropical to temperate latitudes of North and South America
Nest on rocky shores and beaches; feed in coastal waters
Order Charadriiformes (gulls, auks, and relatives), Family Laridae (gulls)
The laughing gull is one of 55 species of seagulls and lives both north and south of the equator in the Americas. This gull is white with grey wings and a dark black head during the summer nesting season. In winter, the black head becomes more of a subtle grey, and the laughing gull more closely resembles other gulls in the area. Unlike many seagulls, which can be found along inland waterways, the this species is more strictly coastal. It is the most common seagull in the Caribbean Sea, and it gets its common name from its call, which sounds like high pitched laughing.
Like many seagulls, the laughing gull eats a variety of prey and will both hunt and scavenge for suitable food. They forage for a variety of living, coastal invertebrates and for human garbage. They also often steal food from other predators, especially the brown pelican. Adult laughing gulls have few predators, but they are likely taken by tiger sharks and other large, coastal sharks when they float on the sea surface.
Like all seabirds, laughing gulls nest on land. They reproduce via internal fertilization, and the females lay fertilized eggs in nests made of coastal grasses, directly on the ground. Both males and females incubate the eggs and care for the chicks. Laughing gulls reach sexual maturity at approximately age three.
The laughing gull is a common species throughout its range and is a species of least conservation concern. In fact, its populations are increasing in size, a likely result of its ability to thrive in the human environment. The laughing gull is successful in degraded systems and is particularly adept at scavenging in construction sites and landfill operations, common human systems in the coastal environment. Though this species is generally limited to the Americas, some vagrant individuals are now observed in Western Europe each year. To date, these observations do not represent a true range expansion.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.