Gulls of North America



"Since we first published the following review, the book has been recalled to correct numerous errors, many of which Mark Land mentions in his review. We are continuing to run the review because the new gull book is of great interest to the birding community. We will update the review when the book is reissued.

I have an obsession for birdwatching, and part of it is that I enjoy watching gulls. Armed with Gulls by Peter Grant, various field guides, and internet notes, we have traveled to local reservoirs, rivers, and dumps searching the flocks for something other than the usual Ring-billed and Herring Gulls. So, when I first heard that a new identification book on gulls was to be published last year I couldn't wait to see it. I ordered one and then waited, and waited.

Well, the wait is over! Was it worth it? You bet it was! This is a gull watcher's dream come true. For those of you familiar with the specific family volumes (blackbirds, finches and buntings, woodpeckers, shorebirds, etc.) this book follows the same successful format with one major difference; Photographs! Over 823 color photographs grace these pages. The other difference, that I particularly like, is the fact that the written description, the plates, and the photographs are all together in each account. No more flipping from the plates in the front of the book to the back of the book to read the description, and then back to the plates.

This is a hefty volume with over 600 pages containing 43 species accounts. Some subspecies are treated as separate species. The American Herring Gull, L. Smithsonianus, and Mew Gull, L. Brachyrhynchus, are the two that will be of the most interest to Midwestern gull watchers. An introduction discusses some of the pitfalls of gull watching. Sections on age, molt, wear, fading, hybridization, and the effects of light on the gray and brown colors of gulls are just some of the topics touched upon. There are comparison plates of the large and medium gulls in adult winter plumage. (The hooded or small gulls are not compared). There is an interesting comparison of large adult gull wingtip patterns. Each species account discusses identification, voice, molt, description, variation, distribution, migration, and measurements. There are two to three pages of illustrations showing various plumages, both flying and standing, and from nine to a whopping forty-seven photographs highlighting each account. For those of us who cannot get enough of gulls there is an extensive reference section in the back of the book.

With everything good, however, there comes the bad and the ugly! There is an insert of over 25 errata that needs to be utilized. These errors range from the transposing of numbers on the figures to a confusing array of captions on two pages of the wingtip patterns. I've yet to figure out how I will record these changes in my book, but scissors and glue may surely play a part. The maps can be vague and show very little to no vagrancy in most species. Although vagrancy is touched upon in the accounts they are only mentioned in general terms. Kansas and Missouri are simply part of the "Midwest". To some the price tag of $55.00 might seem a bit steep, but once you open this book you will discover that it is worth every penny, nickel, dime, and quarter you can save. (Seriously, that's how I bought mine!)

The real test will come this fall and winter as we put this volume to use. Searching the flocks for that illusive Slaty-backed, Yellow-legged, Glaucous-winged or Black-tailed Gull, we will have one more major source to aid us in confirming our ID.