I was lucky enough to join Nick Bonomo, Dori Sosensky, Roy Harvey and Julian Hough today to chase a GRAY-HOODED GULL (Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus) (!!!) that was found at Coney Island, NY on the twenty-fourth. Relocated yesterday, this bird represents only the second ABA record, with the first being from Apalachicola, Florida in December of 1998.
The Gray-hooded Gull’s global range encompasses parts of both South America and Africa including the coast of Peru and Ecuador on the Pacific side and southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay and all of Uruguay on the Atlantic side of South America. Like in South America, the bird occupies areas on both coasts of Africa including a population on the Atlantic coast around the vicinity of Mauritania. It also breeds in Kenya, Uganda, Madagascar and across lower South Africa and Mozambique. The birds in both continents are widely spaced, with the distance between the Atlantic population in Africa and the Madagascar population appearing to be a similar distance apart as Coney Island and the Pacific South America population.
This all brings up the issue of the ancestry of the bird. Ship assisted even partially? Probably. Although, a semi-reasonable non ship-assisted scenario I can see is if a hurricane near the coast of Senegal and Mauritania ran a course that curved straight up to New York, but as we all know very well, rain has been hard to come by these past couple weeks! Perhaps, however it did that for part of its journey and then rode/followed a ship up. I would guess that this bird likely came from the South American population, maybe the Atlantic coast one, and just followed a ship outside Brazil and rode its way up. This bird proves again and again “you never know…” and it’s quite intriguing to guess at the possibilities of where it came from, even though we’ll never know for sure.
In terms of plumage, this bird was an alternate-plumaged adult, although it appeared to all the members of our group that the bird was beginning to molt the gray on its hood, especially closer to the bill, thus beginning the molt to basic plumage. In comparison to the adjacent Laughings, this bird’s mantle color appeared a bit lighter in gray which was quite evident to me when the bird was in flight. Also, the Gray-hooded shows quite prominent white wing patches from the alula down to the base of the primaries while Laughing contains no prominent white on its wing. The tail shape was similar to that of Laughing, but Gray-hooded showed a whitish iris and red bill and legs. The bird also showed white “mirrors” on P9 and P10, something the adjacent Laughing’s lacked as their primaries appeared predominantly dark with little white. Photos below:
According to the Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America (Olsen/Larsson), there is some geographic variation within this species: “Birds from West Africa are on average smaller than East African Birds. Nominate cirrocephalus (S America) slightly larger than poicephalus, in adult plumage with paler upperparts and larger white mirrors on P9-P10.”
Almost half as crazy as the bird itself was its location: the Coney Island Boardwalk area adjacent to the Wonder Wheel and Amusement Park as well as Nathan’s well-known hot dog stand, with crowds of beach goers and the like around. Overall, a real treat and an ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC bird for New York and North America for that matter!