Franklin's Gull influx


Franklin's Gull: Wicklow harbour, Co. Wicklow With around 50 accepted British and Irish records, and more to be assessed following recent influxes, this fine Nearctic gull is no longer the rarity it once was. However, it still retains its place high on the 'want to find' list of gull addicts (photo: Paul and Andrea Kelly).

Given the glut of Franklin's Gulls over the winter, it seems strange to think that the first British, and Western Palearctic, record was found as recently as 1970 when an adult frequented Langstone Harbour/Farlington Marshes (Hampshire) from 21st February to 16th May. This was followed shortly after by one at Arlington Reservoir (E. Sussex) on 4th July, but it was to be a further seven years before the next. Times have changed quite rapidly for this smart Nearctic gull. Records have been almost annual since 1980, and the species is no longer the highly sought-after 'mega' that it was for the active listers of the 1980s. There were 44 accepted British records by the end of 2004. Surprisingly, the first for Ireland did not occur until 1993 when a 1st-summer was at Ballyheigue (Co. Kerry) from 7th–11th May, but six others have followed. Several recent birds have been well tracked during their time in the country. In 1992 one was seen in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, in 1998 a 1st-summer was seen in Norfolk, then Lincolnshire and finally Shetland, and, more recently, one was seen on the Isles of Scilly and then Dorset in 2004.

Franklin's Gull: Wicklow harbour, Co. Wicklow (photo: Paul and Andrea Kelly). Nearly two-thirds of records have related to adults, with only a fifth pertaining to 1st-year birds. Two peak periods of occurrence fall between May and August, and from October to January. There is a distinct southern England bias to sightings, the majority in counties below a line from the Severn Estuary to the Humber. In comparison, its Nearctic counterpart the Laughing Gull is very much an "anytime anyplace" species, with a rectangular monthly occurrence distribution and no bias to particular regions. In contrast, only a third of Laughing Gulls have been aged as adults, with a similar proportion of 1st-year birds.

For a species that breeds on the prairies of Canada and USA and spends the winter in the Pacific off South America, and is a rare vagrant to the Atlantic states, it would appear strange that it is such a frequent visitor to this side of the Atlantic. Olsen and Larson (2003) and Hoogendoorn and Steinhaus (1990) hypothesise that the unexpected frequency of records is explained by a vagrancy route from South America to Africa, which is then followed by "normal" migration into Europe, supplemented by the arrival of 1st-year birds in the autumn following a transatlantic passage. Both Britain and Ireland shared in the deluge of Laughing Gulls courtesy of Hurricane Wilma in early November 2005; and associated with this influx were several Franklin's Gulls in Ireland and Southwest Britain. The last few weeks has yielded yet more Irish Franklin's Gulls and another in Devon. With the present spate of records it would seem likely that the recent 'influx' originates from 1st-winters reaching the eastern Atlantic as a consequence of Hurricane Wilma late last year. Presumably these birds have subsequently spent the winter further south in Europe or perhaps off Africa. These birds are now undertaking a northwards movement, albeit in the eastern Atlantic; departure from their 'normal winter quarters' in South America commences in March. All, so far, have been 1st-winters and it seems likely that more will be found as the spring progresses. It would also seem likely that its companion species in the influx, the Laughing Gull, will also start to make an appearance in increased numbers shortly.

Franklin's Gull: Wicklow harbour, Co. Wicklow The shape and structure of Franklin's Gull recalls Little Gull. Given reasonable views, separation from the superficially similar Laughing Gull in 1st-winter plumage should be quite straightforward, though several of the recent reports were initially confused. In flight Franklin's can be easily separated by several key features. The underwing coverts are whitish (as opposed to the 'mucky' underwing of laughing Gull), plus the narrow black tail band does not extend onto the outer tail. Other features to look for are the broader white trailing edge to the inner wing, paler inner primaries and white hindneck (photo: Paul and Andrea Kelly).


Laughing Gull: Porthcawl, Glamorgan Compared with Franklin's Gull, larger-sized with a flight jizz often likened to smaller version of Lesser Black-backed Gull. Plumage-wise the underwing is dusky, and the broad black tail band extends onto the tail sides. The white trailing edge to the wing is less obvious, there is no contrast to the inner primaries and no white cut-off on the hindneck (photo: Dave Brassey).


The recent influx involves at least five, possibly six, birds in Ireland with two in Cork, one in Wicklow, one in Louth and one/two in Northern Ireland (plus additional birds in Galway and Wexford in late 2005). In addition at least one, possibly two, birds have been seen in Devon.

  • Co. Down: 1st-winter Dundrum Bay, 28th January–4th February.
  • Co. Cork: 1st-winter Carrigaline, 29th–30th January.
  • Devon: 1st-winter Northam Burrows CP, 12th–13th February, with it, or another, 11th March.
  • Co. Antrim: 1st-winter Dargan Bay, 21st February, and Whitehouse Lagoon on 4th March. Probably the same bird as that seen in Co. Down.
  • Co. Cork: 1st-winter Rosscarbery, Owenahincha and Clonakilty from 12th March onwards, considered different to the late-January individual in Co. Cork.
  • Co. Wicklow: 1st-winter Wicklow harbour 18th–20th March; also 23rd and 26th .
  • Co. Louth: 1st-winter Cruisetown 19th March.
Franklin's Gull: Rossaveal, Co. Galway Shorter-billed than Laughing, with striking head pattern and clean whitish underparts. Legs shorter than Laughing, but shares the conspicuous white eye crescents at all ages. In 1st-winter, appears 'hooded', more obviously so than Laughing (photo: Derek Charles). Laughing Gull: Cork City, Co. Cork Less compact than Franklin's, with longer bill and legs. Breast band and flanks distinctly sullied, unlike Franklin's. Note less 'hooded' appearance, in contrast to the neat patterning on Franklin's (photo: Sean Ronayne).


Franklin's Gull: Wicklow harbour, Co. Wicklow Told from 1st-winter Laughing Gull by white hindneck, and dark half mask. At rest the rounded head shape, shorter legs and shorter bill offer structural differences. Unlike Laughing Gulls of the same age the neck sides are only slightly sullied, and always looks 'cleaner'. Note the prominent white eyelids (photo: Paul and Andrea Kelly).



Many thanks to Eric Dempsey of BINS (Birds Ireland News Service) for clarification on some of the recent records from Ireland: http://www.birdsireland.com/

More images by Paul and Andrea Kelly can be found at: http://www.irishbirdimages.com/


Cramp and Simmons. 2004 Birds of the Western Palearctic interactive. Published by BirdGuides, Sheffield.
Hoogendoorn, W and Steinhaus G H. 1990. Nearctic gulls in the western Palearctic. Dutch Birding 12: 109–164.
Malling Olsen, K and Larsson, H. 2003. Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America. Helm. London.

Written by: Russell Slack