Franklin's Gull - Leucophaeus pipixcan
The Franklin's Gull is a small gull of wetlands in the interior of North America. In breeding plumage, this species has a black hood and a dark red bill with a black mark near the tip. The dark gray of the back extends to the upperpart of the wings. The underparts of the bird, including the wings, are white. The hindneck, the area between the black hood and the gray back, is also white. The underparts are sometimes tinged with pink, a coloration that earned the species the early name of Rosy or Prairie Dove (Burger and Gochfeld 1994). The legs are brownish-black or dusky (Burger and Gochfeld 1994). Broad white arcs directly above and below the black eye are apparent during the breeding season. The gray wings are tipped with a white band, then a black margin, and ultimately with large white primary ends.
In non-breeding plumage, the species loses the redness in the bill, and it becomes black. The black hood is reduced to an area from the eye to the back of the head, revealing a white forehead, throat, and splotchy crown. The bird averages 37 cm (14.5 inches) long with a wingspan of 91 cm (36 inches); the male tends to be slightly larger than the female (Sibley 2000). The vocalization of the Franklin's Gull is described as a nasal, laughing, hollow sound. A "kowii
" or "queel
" are used to define the common call (Sibley 2000).
For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.
The most likely species with which the Franklin's Gull could be confused is the Laughing Gull, a rare species in Montana. The Franklin's Gull is slightly smaller, with proportionately smaller legs and bill. The bill is thinner and does not droop at the tip as it does on the Laughing Gull (Burger and Gochfeld 1994). The arcs of white around the Franklin's Gull's eye are more apparent as are the large white primary tips of the wings; the wingtips on the Laughing Gull have white on them, but the white is small and is not always evident (Sibley 2000). Differentiating the Franklin's Gull from the Bonaparte's Gull can be made by several distinguishing features. The Franklin's Gull is larger; the bill color is red in the Franklin's Gull compared to black in the Bonaparte's Gull; and unlike the indistinct white around the Bonaparte's Gull's eye, the white eye-arcs of the Franklin's Gull are obvious (Sibley 2000).
Western Hemisphere Range
Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations:
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version)
Map Help and Descriptions
(direct evidence "B")
(indirect evidence "b")
No evidence of Breeding
(regular observations "W")
(at least one obs. "w")
(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
The Franklin's Gull generally returns to the state in mid-April and is gone by early to mid-October. In Montana, the extreme migration dates for this species are April 4 (Casey 2000) and October 11 (Reichel 1996). The normal arrival date at Fort Peck is April 20, and at Bozeman it is May 15 (Skaar et al. 1985).
Preferring large, relatively permanent prairie marsh complexes, the Franklin's Gull builds its nests over water on a supporting structure of emergent vegetation. Nesting is noted to occur in cattails (Typha spp.) and bulrushes (Scirpus spp.) (Berger and Gochfeld 1994). Typical water depth is 30 to 60 cm. Nesting over water differs from the nesting habits of Montana's other, generally ground nesting, gulls (Johnsgard 1992). Franklin's Gulls prefer to nest at sites with intermediate vegetation density, interspersed with open water of various sizes (Burger and Gochfeld 1994). Preferred nesting sites within a wetland can change from year to year because of changes in water level and associated changes in vegetation (Burger and Gochfeld 1994). One key feature of selected nesting sites is that the water levels remain high enough throughout the nesting period, or at least until the young can fledge, in order to provide protection from predators (Casey 2000). During migration, including the Bozeman area, the Franklin's Gull can be found feeding on dry land, especially in cultivated fields prior to planting (Skaar 1969, Johnsgard 1992).
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
- Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
How Associations Were Made
We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for
vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
- Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
- Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
- Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
- Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.
In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.
However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if
point observations were associated with that system.
Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.
The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.
If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.
Suggested Uses and Limitations
Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.
These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp
) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.
Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.
Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.
Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).
Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.
- Adams, R.A. 2003. Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. 289 p.
- Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34. Missoula, MT.
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- Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath. 2004. Amphibians and reptiles of Montana. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.
At Freezeout Lake, stomach contents included insects, oligochaetes, arachnids and unidentified vertebrates, and plant material believed to be taken incidentally to consuming animals (Rothweiler 1960).
Franklin's Gulls often flock when feeding. During migration and on wintering areas, this species has been observed in upwards of 500,000 individuals in a flock (Burger and Gochfeld 1994).
Breeding is very localized and occurs mainly in the northern portion of state's plains region and in the southwest. Franklin's Gulls are known to nest in five locations in Montana and may account for as many as 34,000 breeding pairs (Reichel 1996). In 1994-95, the number of nesting pairs for each of the locations was recorded as: Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge (50 to 500); Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge (20; previously up to 7500); Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge (16,000); Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area (16,000); and Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (200 +; Reichel 1996). Possible breeding has been reported at other locations in Montana, without details (Montana Bird Distribution Committee 2012).
At Freezeout Lake, nest density ranged from 5 to 111 nests per 0.1 acre plot (Rothweiler 1960). Nests are typically 0.6 to 2.5 m apart (Burger 1974). They are made of piled vegetation, usually whatever is closest; material is added throughout the nesting period up to fledging. At Freezeout Lake nests were constructed of alkali bulrush stems, either built from the lake bottom, or floating but anchored to emergent vegetation (Rothweiler 1960). At Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge nest diameter averaged 58 cm early in incubation; additional material increases the nest size throughout the nesting period (Burger and Gochfeld 1994). Franklin's Gull may nest in association with other colonial nesting species including: White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi), Black-crowned Night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), and Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) (Casey 2000).
No management activities in Montana specific to Franklin's Gulls are documented. However, management activities should recognize the caution required at colonies particularly just before egg-laying and just after hatching to prevent desertion of the colony or mortality of young chicks (Reichel 1996).
- Literature Cited AboveLegend: View Online Publication
- Burger, J. 1974. Breeding adaptations of Franklin's gull (Larus pipixcan) to a marsh habitat. Animal Behavior 22:521-567.
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- Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
- Reichel, J. D. 1996. Preliminary colonial nesting bird survey on the Bureau of Land Management Lewistown District: 1995. Unpublished report, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Lewistown, Montana.
- Rothweiler, R. A. 1960. Food habits, movements, and nesting of gulls, Freezout Lake, Teton County, Montana. Montana Fish and Game Department, Helena. Paper Number 494. 26 pp.
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- Additional ReferencesLegend: View Online Publication
Do you know of a citation we're missing?
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- Burger, J. and M. Gochfeld. 1994. Franklin's Gull (Larus pipixcan<\i>). Species Account Number 116. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database
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- Littlefield, C.D. and S.P. Thompson. 1981. History and status of the Franklin's gull on Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon. Great Basin Nat. 41(4):440-444.
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- Additional Sources of Information Related to "Birds"