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California Gull -
Native Species Global Rank
Agency Status USFWS
MBTA; BCC10; BCC11; BCC17
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Medium-sized white-headed gull; male slightly larger than female. Definitive plumage, combination of dark gray mantle, yellow green legs, and black and red spots on gonys (enlarged part of lower mandible where left and right halves come together) distinguish this species from all other gulls in its summer range.
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.
Western Hemisphere Range
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version)
Map Help and Descriptions
SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding
Indirect Evidence of Breeding
No Evidence of Breeding
WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
Not Regularly Observed
(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
In the Bozeman area, normal migration periods are March 25 to May 15 and again during August 1 to November 25, with peaks April 15 and September 25 (Skaar 1969). Adult California Gulls that were marked on the breeding colony at Freezeout Lake were later reobserved on the Pacific coast from Vancouver, Canada to Baja California, Mexico (Rothweiler 1960).
In the Bozeman area, the California Gull prefers larger lakes, but also occurs on ponds and rivers, especially in spring and fall (Skaar 1969). In Montana, colonies are typically located on islands (Rothweiler 1960). Nests are located either among dried vegetation or on bare ground (Rothweiler 1960)
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,
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:
) 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.
Foresman, K.R. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998. Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates. Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT. 1302 p.
Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32. 72 p.
Maxell, B.A. 2000. Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species. Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1. Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana. 161 p.
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, crustaceans, amphibians and birds, and plant material believed to be ingested incidentally to consuming animals (Rothweiler 1960).
At Freezeout Lake, in nesting colonies with Ring-billed Gulls, the nesting habitat is segregated with respect to vegetative characteristics, and food niches are separated by different foraging distances (Baird 1976).
At Freezeout Lake nests varied in shape from depressions in the ground to constructed mounds; they were located 2 to 75 feet apart (Rothweiler 1960).
Literature Cited Above
Legend: View Online Publication Baird, P. A. 1976. Comparative ecology of California and Ring-billed gulls (Larus californicus and L. delawarensis). Ph.D. dissertation, University of Montana, Missoula. Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages. 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. Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p. Additional References
Legend: View Online Publication Do you know of a citation we're missing? [WWPC] Washington Water Power Company. 1995. 1994 wildlife report Noxon Rapids and Cabinet Gorge Reservoirs. Washington Water Power Company. Spokane, WA. American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1998. Check-list of North American birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C. 829 p. Baird, P. 1976. Comparative ecology of California and ring-billed gulls (Larus californicus and L. delawarensis). Ph.D. Thesis, University of Montana, Missoula. Bramblett, R.G., and A.V. Zale. 2002. Montana Prairie Riparian Native Species Report. Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit, Montana State University - Bozeman. Casey, D. 2005. Rocky Mountain Front avian inventory. Final report. Prepared for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy by the American Bird Conservancy, Kalispell, Montana. Cobell, B. and R. Wagner. 2002. An evaluation of the terrestrial and aquatic resources of Malmstrom Air Force Base. USFWS - Montana Fish and Wildlife Management Assistance Office. 28 pgs + append. Confluence Consulting Inc. 2011. Montana Department of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports (various sites). MDT Helena, MT. Conover, M. R. 1983. Recent changes in Ring-billed and California gull populations in the western United States. Wilson Bulletin 95(3):362-383. Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp. Feigley, H. P. 1997. Colonial nesting bird survey on the Bureau of Land Management Lewistown District: 1996. Unpublished report, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Lewistown, Montana. Findholt, S.L. 1986l. Status and distribution of California Gulls (Larus californicus) nesting colonies in Wyoming (USA). Great Basin Nat. 46(1): 128-133. Godfrey, W. Earl. 1966. The birds of Canada. National Museums of Canada, Ottawa. 428 pp. Golden Sunlight Mines, Inc. 2000. Golden Sunlight Mines, Inc., Whitehall, MT. Annual Permit Reports. Goodell, J. 2012. Morse Land Company Breeding Bird Inventory And Analysis. High Desert Museum. Bend, OR. 42 pp + Appendices. Hays, R., R.L. Eng, and C.V. Davis (preparers). 1984. A list of Montana birds. Helena, MT: MT Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Hendricks, P., S. Lenard, D.M. Stagliano, and B.A. Maxell. 2013. Baseline nongame wildlife surveys on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Report to the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, MT. 83 p. Idaho Fish & Game. Idaho's water birds: the colony nesters. Nongame Wildlife Leaflet 2. 12 p. Jehl, J. R., Jr., and S. A. Mahoney. 1987. The roles of thermal environment and predation in habitat choice in the California gull. Condor 89:850-862. Johnsgard, P.A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp. Joslin, Gayle, and Heidi B. Youmans. 1999. Effects of recreation on Rocky Mountain wildlife: a review for Montana. [Montana]: Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society. Koel, T.M., L.M. Tronstad, J.L. Arnold, K.A. Gunter, D.W. Smith, J.M. Syslo, and P.J. White. 2019. Predatory fish invasion induces within and across ecosystem effects in Yellowstone National Park. Science Advances 5:eaav1139. Land & Water Consulting, Inc., Missoula, MT., 2002, Montana Dept. of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, Year 2002: Cow Coulee, Townsend, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.013. February 2003. In 2002 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. I. Lenard, S., Compiler. 2005. Surveys for Animal Species of Concern in Sage and Grassland Landscapes in Montana. An unpublished report to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, State Wildlife Grants Program. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, Montana. 63pp. Lenard, S., J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution, 6th edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, MT. 144 pp. Lokemoen, J.T. 1993. Increasing waterfowl nesting success on islands and peninsulas. Ch. 13.2.11 In: Waterfowl Management Handbook. Fish and Wildlife Service Leaflet. 7 p. Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map. Oechsli, L.M. 2000. Ex-urban development in the Rocky Mountain West: consequences for native vegetation, wildlife diversity, and land-use planning in Big Sky, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 73 p. Pavlacky Jr., D.C., et al. 2021. Landscape-scale conservation mitigates the biodiversity loss of grassland birds. Ecological Applications e2548. 17 p. 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. Reinhart, D.P. 1990. Grizzly bear habitat use on cutthroat trout spawning streams in tributaries of Yellowstone Lake. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 128 p. Rogers, R.R and A. Rogers. 1995. A survey of nesting ferruginous hawks (Buteo regalis) on public lands in Petroleum and Fergus counties, Montana. Prepared for the USDI Bureau of Land Management, Judith Resource Area. 17 p. Rothweiler, R.A. 1960. Food habits, movements and nesting of gulls on a waterfowl area, Freezeout Lake, Teton County, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 29 p. Rundquist, V.M. 1973. Avian ecology on stock ponds in two vegetational types in north-central Montana. Ph.D. Dissertation. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 112 p. Salt, W.R. and J.R. Salt. 1976. The birds of Alberta. Hurtig Publishers, Edmonton, Alberta. xv + 498 pp. Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp. Skaar, P. D., D. L. Flath, and L. S. Thompson. 1985. Montana bird distribution. Montana Academy of Sciences Monograph 3(44): ii-69. Stewart, R.E. 1975. Breeding birds of North Dakota. Tri-College Center for Environmental Studies, Fargo, North Dakota. 295 pp. Swan River National Wildlife Refuge. 1982. Birds of the Swan River NWR. Kalispell, MT: NW MT Fish and Wildlife Center pamphlet. Thompson, L.S. 1981. Circle West wildlife monitoring study: Third annual report. Technical report No. 8. Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Helena, Montana. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2021. Birds of Conservation Concern 2021. United States Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Birds, Falls Church, Virginia. U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages. Van Horn, R.C. 1993. Ferruginous Hawk and Prairie Falcon reproductive and behavioral responses to human activity near the Kevin Rim, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, Montana: Montana State University. 86 p. Vermeer, K. 1970. Breeding biology of California and Ring-billed Gulls. Can. Wildl. Serv. Rept. 12: 52 pp. Waldt, R. 1995. The Pine Butte Swamp Preserve bird list. Choteau, MT: The Nature Conservancy. Updated August 1995. Watts, C.R. and L.C. Eichhorn. 1981. Changes in the birds of central Montana. Proceedings of the Montana Academy of Sciences 40:31-40. Winkler, D. W. 1996. California Gull (Larus californicus). In The birds of North America, No. 259 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and American Ornithologists’ Union. Web Search Engines for Articles on "California Gull"
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