Return of Bird of the Week: Herring Gull

Wickersham's Conscience

Herring Gull, female, breeding plumage, Tangle River, Alaska

If you want to provoke an argument among gull specialists, ask them how many species of Herring Gull there are. Depending on the ornithologist, you’ll be told one, three of five. Among American ornithologists, at least, there’s a fuzzy consensus that there is just one, and five to nine subspecies. Among Europeans, on the other hand, you will heard three or five. The problem is that Herring Gulls are so variable, and hybridize so enthusiastically, that the systematics of this species are a real problem. Certainly the Vega Gull – the Asian version of the “Herring Gull” – is quite different looking than the American Herring Gull. The mantle and wings are much darker, the Vega Gull is smaller and the calls are different. But in a place where the ranges overlaps – the Norton Peninsula in Alaska, for example – you…

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