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Fascinating Facts About the Unique Dolphin Gull: Behavior Habitat and More!

The Dolphin Gull, Leucophaeus scoresbii is a coastal bird species found in the southern hemisphere ranging from the Falkland Islands to the southern tip of Argentina. Known for its distinctive features and behavior, the Dolphin Gull is a fascinating bird to observe and study.

In this article, we will explore the field identification, similar species, plumages, and molts of the Dolphin Gull. Identification:

Field Identification:

The Dolphin Gull is a medium-sized gull, measuring approximately 40-45 cm in length, with a wingspan of 95-105 cm.

It has a white head, neck, and underparts, contrasting with a dark brown to blackish back and upper wings. The Dolphin Gull has a red bill with a black tip, which is unique among gull species.

Its legs and feet are pinkish-red to orange. The bird’s eyes are a pale yellow.

Similar Species:

The Dolphin Gull can be distinguished from other gull species by its distinctive bill color. The Red-billed Gull and the Kelp Gull are the species most frequently confused with the Dolphin Gull.

However, their bills are not as red as the Dolphin Gull’s, and the Kelp Gull is larger with a more robust bill compared to the Dolphin Gull. Plumages:

The Dolphin Gull’s plumage remains relatively consistent throughout its life, with only minor color changes during molts.

The bird has two plumages: breeding and non-breeding. During the breeding season, the Dolphin Gull’s crown, nape, and neck are lightly streaked with black, which is not prominent.

Additionally, a small amount of black may also be present along the shoulders. During the non-breeding season, the black streaking on the head and neck reduces, and the bird’s plumage turns a mottled beige-brown.

The wings remain mostly black, with some white primary feathers and white tips on the tail. Molts:

The Dolphin Gull undergoes two molts during its lifetime: the pre-basic and pre-alternate.

The pre-basic molt occurs in the non-breeding season, and the pre-alternate molt happens in the breeding season. During the pre-basic molt, the Dolphin Gull replaces its body feathers one by one, starting with the greater coverts and progressing to the inner primaries.

The molt often begins in the secondaries of the outermost wing feathers. During the pre-alternate molt, the breeding plumage gets acquired, which is instigated by hormonal changes in the bird.

The bill, legs, and eyes turn brighter, and the black streaking becomes more pronounced. Conclusion:

In conclusion, the Dolphin Gull is an enchanting bird species found in the southern hemisphere that is distinctively identifiable by its unique red bill with a black tip.

It has two plumage stages and undergoes two molts during its lifetime. It is fascinating to observe and study, presenting an opportunity to learn more about the stunning diversity of bird species that inhabit our planet.

Systematics History:

The Leucophaeus scoresbii, also known as the Dolphin Gull, was first described by English ornithologist William John Swainson in 1837. The species was initially classified as a member of the genus Larus, but in 1954, the Argentine ornithologist Jose Canevari placed it in the separate genus Leucophaeus.

The Dolphin Gull is now classified as part of the family Laridae. Geographic Variation:

The Dolphin Gull is a coastal bird species found in the southern hemisphere ranging from the Falkland Islands to the southern tip of Argentina.

The distribution of the species is patchy, with the populations concentrated in the southern reaches of their range, where they are widespread around the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. Subspecies:

The Dolphin Gull comprises two recognized subspecies, Leucophaeus scoresbii scoresbii, and Leucophaeus scoresbii geimei.

Leucophaeus scoresbii scoresbii is the nominate subspecies and is found along the southern coast of South America from southern Peru to Tierra Del Fuego. These birds have a darker plumage combining a slate-grey mantle, almost black upperparts, and a blackish tail.

During the breeding season, they develop chocolate brown mottling on their crown and nape, while the head remains solid white the rest of the year. Leucophaeus scoresbii geimei is the subspecies found in the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands and South Georgia.

These birds have a lighter plumage with less contrast between their upper wings and back feathers. During the non-breeding season, their heads are entirely white, which distinguishes them from the other subspecies.

Related Species:

The Dolphin Gull is part of the larger gull family and shares many features with its relatives. The gull family is divided into two subfamilies, the Sterninae and the Larinae.

The Dolphin Gull belongs to the Larinae subfamily, which includes the larger gulls of the genus Larus and several smaller genera, including Leucophaeus. The Dolphin Gull is most closely related to the Lava Gull (Leucophaeus fuliginosus), which is generally considered its sister species.

The Lava Gull is restricted to the islands of the Galapagos archipelago, but its distribution overlaps with that of the Dolphin Gull in northern Peru. Historical Changes to Distribution:

Historically, the Dolphin Gull was found in large numbers along the Patagonian coast of South America.

In the 19th century, the species was heavily hunted for its feathers and used as a source of food by whalers and sealers. These activities led to a significant decline in the Dolphin Gull population, particularly in Argentina and Chile.

More recently, the Dolphin Gull population has shown signs of recovery, partly due to conservation measures implemented by South American countries and the use of eco-tourism to generate revenue. It is still regarded as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to the ongoing wildlife and habitat threats and because of its restricted distribution.

In conclusion, the Dolphin Gull is an intriguing coastal bird species found in the southern hemisphere, with two recognized subspecies and close relations with other gulls. Its distribution has been affected by historical hunting and feather trade in addition to other adverse circumstances.

Nonetheless, conservation initiatives and tourism have helped stabilize its population to some extent, leading to hope for further recovery of this unique and striking gull species. Habitat:

The Dolphin Gull is a coastal bird species, often found around rocky shores, beaches or estuaries, and can be seen around cities, harbors, and fishing villages.

Their nesting places are difficult to access, as they usually breed on small offshore stacks, rock crevices, and pools, away from human disturbances. Though the Dolphin Gull is typically a non-migratory bird species, its distribution varies according to the food availability in different regions.

The Dolphin Gull’s food sources are varied and include fish, squid, crustaceans, and dead organisms. In the region of the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands, the Dolphin Gull nests along rocky shores and small offshore islets, mainly on the eastern and southern sides of the Falklands, around Grand Harbors and Stanley.

The species is usually seen in small groups, feeding on shellfish, crustaceans, and fish in the shallow waters along beaches and estuarine inlets. In the region of Tierra del Fuego, the Dolphin Gull population is most abundant in the Beagle Channel, where they may be seen out of the breeding season foraging in intertidal areas of the channel edges or perched on rocky outcrops.

Movements and Migration:

Dolphin Gulls are mainly a non-migratory species that remain year-round on their breeding grounds along the Patagonian coast and Falkland Islands. However, non-breeding birds from southern Patagonia migrate north, and small flocks of up to 15 individuals can be seen in estuaries, coastal lagoons, and harbours as far north as Uruguay, southern Brazil, and the Chubut province of Argentina during the austral winter.

In the Falklands, breeding birds do not migrate; however, young birds travel north, and some have been observed in Uruguay and Brazil, suggesting that they disperse through the South Atlantic. Some post-breeding juveniles fly over the southern Atlantic Ocean to the coasts of South Africa and the Indian Ocean with the help of strong prevailing winds.

These journeys demonstrate the ability of the species to move over significant distances when necessary. The movements of Dolphin Gulls are influenced by changing food resources, climate, and the availability of nesting sites, which can lead to cyclic population fluctuations.

In some areas, including the Falklands, nesting sites have decreased in the last century due to human activities such as fishing practices, guano removals, and oil pollution, leading to concerns about the long-term viability of the species. Furthermore, anthropogenic climate change, including ocean warming and overfishing, is likely to impact the distribution and survival of the Dolphin Gull in the future.

Loss of sea ice can reduce the number of krill, which are an essential food source for squids, fishes, and higher-order predators, including Dolphin Gulls. Therefore, these variables may affect the population and migration patterns of the Dolphin Gull.

In conclusion, the Dolphin Gull is a coastal bird species that exhibits varied habitat use in breeding and non-breeding seasons. They usually forage on and around the coast, alongside estuaries and beaches, where they can feed on various food sources.

The population may migrate, but this is largely due to differences in food availability rather than geographical differences. Given the potential change in the environment associated with human activities, appropriate conservation measures are required in the future.

Long-term studies and habitat management could help ensure the long-term survival of the Dolphin Gull. Diet and Foraging:


The Dolphin Gull is a carnivorous bird that feeds on a variety of prey, including fish, squid, crustaceans, and carrion.

In both breeding and non-breeding seasons, the bird typically forages along the coastal areas close to the sea. Dolphins, by driving small animals up into the surf, can often inadvertently create feeding opportunities for the gulls.

They are known to switch diets seasonally, depending on prey availability, which likely explains why they are always foraging near the sea. Diet:

The Dolphin Gull’s diet is dependent on the area in which it lives and the availability of food sources.

In regions like the Falkland Islands, they have been seen feeding on small marine birds, like penguins and shags, as well as scavenging on carrion. During the breeding season, their diet shifts to crustaceans, mollusks, and fish.

They also feed on squids during the non-breeding season. A year-long study in Argentine Patagonia showed that the amount of crustaceans in their diet was higher than other prey, followed by fish.

These crustaceans are found in intertidal areas, as well as offshore waters. Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

The Dolphin Gull has unique adaptations to support its diet and foraging activities.

The bird has high metabolic rates and an endothermic metabolism, allowing it to maintain a stable body temperature. They are also able to regulate their blood flow, reducing heat loss in their extremities, explains why this bird is found in colder climates like the Antarctic Peninsula.

During the breeding season in Patagonia, the Dolphin Gull feeds heavily to prepare for the energy demands of nesting and incubating their eggs. This results in high metabolic rates and increased thermogenesis.

Their fat stores, particularly from feeding on the more energy-dense food sources, can help the bird sustain their energy needs and overcome fluctuations in food availability. Sounds and Vocal Behavior:


The Dolphin Gull uses vocalizations to communicate with others alongside other gulls in the genus Leucophaeus, producing high-pitched calls described as a “whistling vocalization.” Their vocalizations are subtle, yet distinct, and they make different sounds while in flight and while standing.

Dolphin Gulls are known to communicate with each other via their vocalizations while breeding, courting, and also while they are perched on the rocks. Researchers have observed long-range sounds during sibling begging and alarm calling whenever the young ones perceive danger.

Moreover, they differ in noise level and frequency, depending on the gulls behavior, and are often used in conjunction with body language to convey meaning. In conclusion, the Dolphin Gull is a carnivorous bird that has unique adaptations that support its feeding behavior and foraging activities.

These adaptations allow it to maintain high metabolic rates while regulating its body temperature to support energy requirements during nesting and breeding. The bird is also known for producing high-pitched calls and distinct vocalizations.

These sounds are often used to communicate with other gulls and convey meaning. Behavior:


Dolphin Gulls are an agile species that displays a wide range of locomotion, including walking, flying, and swimming.

They can walk and run confidently on the sandy ground and cobbled beaches around the coastline. The gulls can fly swiftly and efficiently using their broad wings to aid in gliding, and they regularly soar on rising air currents.

Dolphin Gulls are also adept swimmers and divers, with their webbed toes, hydrodynamic body shape, and water-repellent feathers allowing them to move through the water with ease. Alongside swimming, they use their beak to pick up small marine creatures, and their feathers densely packed to maintain buoyancy.

Self Maintenance:

Dolphin Gulls are meticulous when it comes to their personal hygiene and are known to frequently preen their feathers, beak, and claws. This grooming behavior is an essential element in maintaining healthy feathers, which aids in controlling body temperature, reducing water infiltration, for buoyancy when in water, and maintaining good flight performance.

Agonistic Behavior:

Dolphin Gulls are highly social birds that possess complex social interactions that can include aggression and defense. The bird species is known to have a distinct social hierarchy in which dominant individuals will compete for food, territory, and mates.

The Dolphin Gull is thus territorial and can be fiercely defensive, using aggressive behavior to secure its surroundings. Sexual Behavior:

Dolphin Gulls form monogamous pair bonds and mate during the breeding season.

Mating behavior usually involves vocalizations, posture changes, and wing fluttering, among other complex communication behaviors, by the male to attract the female. They also engage in courtship displays, including beak touching and circling flights.


Dolphin Gulls breed during the austral summer (NovemberJanuary), with the breeding cycle lasting between 70-80 days. The bird species is colonial and often nests in dense aggregations, though some breeding colonies are single pairs.

Dolphin Gulls nest in hard-to-reach areas like steep rock faces, small offshore stacks, rock crevices, and pools. The nests built are shallow scrapes that are lined with seaweed, grass, and feathers.

Both parents share the responsibilities of incubation and brooding, with the female typically laying two eggs. The eggs hatch after approximately thirty-two to thirty-eight days, and the chicks are altricial, meaning that they are helpless and require protection and care from their parents.

The young gulls fledge approximately six to ten weeks after hatching. Demography and Populations:

Despite the impact of historical hunting and feather trade, the population of Dolphin Gulls has shown a steady increase in recent years, recovering from a decline in numbers.

Various conservation initiatives, including the creation of protected areas, restrictions on hunting and trading, and community education programs, have worked towards supporting the recovery of the species. However, the changing environment, due to human activities, has put the Dolphin Gull at risk of significant population reductions in the future.

Oil pollution, overfishing, and climate change, including ocean warming, have the potential to alter their food sources and nesting sites, leading to population decline in the long term. These challenges make proper population monitoring and appropriate conservation measures critical in ensuring successful conservation of the species.

In conclusion, the Dolphin Gull is a highly social bird that displays complex social interactions, including grooming, aggression, and defense. The bird species is territorial, engaged in courtship displays, and form monogamous pair bonds during the breeding season.

The gulls nest in hard-to-reach areas during the breeding season and have seen population recovery over the years. The recovery of this remarkable species will depend on long-term monitoring and the implementation of appropriate conservation measures in the face of changing environments and distribution.

In summary, the Dolphin Gull is a unique coastal bird species found in the southern hemisphere with fascinating characteristics and behaviors. The article explored the bird’s systematics history, habitat, movements, diet, and foraging, breeding, behavior, and demography.

It is evident that the Dolphin Gull has a complex and diverse ecology that underscores its ecological and scientific significance. The ongoing conservation initiatives and monitoring programs, along with appropriate habitat management strategies, can help ensure the species’ long-term survival.

The Dolphin Gull serves as an important

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