Saturday, September 19, 2015

Franklin's Gull

The bird above is an adult, non-breeding Franklin’s Gull.  In the lower photo, note the brownish upper wings, typical of a first-winter-plumaged bird. John Holden and I took both these photos on the paved road on the east shore of nearby Circle Lake.

These gulls breed in the Canadian Prairie Provinces and sporadically across the Upper Midwest and western United States. Only a few breeding colonies are known from Minnesota. Across their range, breeding colonies are scattered, and not used every year. In any given year, only about 50 active colonies may exist. Perhaps more remarkably, almost all Franklin’s Gulls winter off the coasts of Peru and Chile.

This history of this bird’s name, Larus pipixcan, is interesting. The gull was first collected in 1823 by John Richardson on the first Franklin expedition to northwestern Canada. The specimen was first misidentified as Laughing Gull. After Franklin’s second expedition, Richardson recognized that this species was new, and named it Franklin’s Rosy Gull, Larus franklinii. Although Richardson wrote a paper describing the new gull in 1830, his work was not published until 1832. Meanwhile, JohannnWagler, a German herpetologist, described a Franklin’s Gull from Mexico, publishing his work in 1831. Wagler’s name for the bird, Larus pipixcan, therefore has priority over Richardson’s. Pipixcan is an Aztec word that refers of Mexico, a region where Franklin’s gulls are only transient. My sources for this account include Burger and Gochfeld (2009) and Gruson (1972).

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