22 August 2016

The Colonel Lives

The Colonel. That's the name we've given to the presumed hybrid Laughing x Ring-billed Gull that has frequented the Illinois/Indiana lakefront since at least 2004. After having searched for this bird a number of times this year, I finally tracked it down yesterday at Calumet Park in Chicago.

Putative Laughing x Ring-billed hybrid (adult). Chicago, Illinois. 21 August 2016.
It flew in from the old power plant property in Hammond, Indiana, landed on the pier after getting a bit comfortable, and then flew back whence it came from.

P10 mirror rules out pure Laughing Gull.

So how are we really sure this is a hybrid with Laughing and Ring-billed genes? We're not and probably never can be without genetic data, but the phenotype matches that mixture of parents well (more here). The working theory behind this bird is that back in 2002 - when a Laughing Gull successfully nested with a Ring-billed in the Lake Calumet colony in Chicago - hybrids were produced, and shortly after some "weird" Laughing Gulls started appearing near a Kentucky Fried Chicken on the Chicago/Hammond city limits. The KFC connection is where we get the name "Colonel" from. Incidentally, that breeding occurrence was the first state nesting record of a Laughing Gull in Illinois. Given those circumstances, and the appearance of this bird, I don't think it's a stretch to assume this hybrid candidacy.

Upperparts darker than a typical Ring-billed, and the build of the body is slighter. The bare parts are intermediate.

The pink blush to the white breast may be an external colorant from the slag piles in East Chicago.
It's always tougher spotting this bird in basic plumage, and I imagine it goes overlooked by some observers in the winter season. Here's what it looks like in fresh, alternate plumage:
Chicago, Illinois. April. 2014.

I have to admit that this is one of my favorite individual gulls of all time, now at least 13 years of age. It pains me to think that one year it'll just stop showing up...So. Is. Life.