Gull Glamour Shots

The gulls along the Willamette River in downtown Portland are quite used to people, and, in fact, seek them out in hopes of a handout. (A similar behavior is exhibited by some people along the river in downtown Portland.) This gives you an excellent opportunity to look at these birds up close and personal. Who says gulls aren’t sexy?

This is the third-cycle Slaty-backed Gull that has been hanging out in Portland. Part of the appeal of this bird, of course, is the novelty associated with this exotic visitor from Siberia.

Thayer’s Gulls always seem to have this demure air about them. Is it their gentle features and brooding dark eyes? Or are they contemplating whether they are, in fact, a separate species or just the western subspecies of Iceland Gull?

This bird shows off the massive school-bus-yellow bill and yellow orbital ring of a Western Gull. The bit of streaking on the head and neck reveals that a Glaucous-winged Gull perches somewhere in this bird’s family tree.

Slaty-backed Gull

My first lifer of 2009 was a Slaty-backed Gull that has been hanging out in downtown Portland lately. It was a pretty painless twitch on the lifelist; 1. learn about the bird from email   2. drive downtown and find a parking space   3. find the gull standing on a light on the Broadway Bridge   4. ka-ching!


While I didn’t have to work very hard for this particular bird, it takes a well-earned spot on my list. I have been studying gulls rather intently for several years, learning to recognize the common species. (One needs to be familiar with the common birds if you want to recognize a rarity when you see one.) Slaty-backed has been very high on my want-list for two reasons. First, it is normally found in Asia, so it is hard to find in Oregon. Second, several years ago I thought I had found one, only to learn that I had made an identification error. While the incident was rather embarrassing (I immediately reported the bird, as I should have.) it did provide a valuable opportunity to learn what a Slaty-backed Gull really should look like.


This is the bird that got me excited a few years ago. It is actually a third-cycle WesternXGlaucous-winged hybrid. It bears some similarities to a Slaty-backed, but the mantle is too light, the markings on the head are too evenly mottled, and the bill is too fat and bulbous. The pale eye on this bird is unusual, adding to my confusion. While many birders pointed out my error, one actually explained why this wasn’t a Slaty-backed Gull, providing me with a great boost in my gull identification skills.


So while I didn’t need a lot of luck or effort to see this particular bird, seeing it provided a bit of closure for one facet of my birding development. Thus I join this third-cycle Slaty-backed Gull in the Happy Dance to celebrate another tick on the life list.