ABA Accidentals

I've devoted this page to gull species that are classified as Code-5 in the ABA area. For practical purposes, Code-5 refers to an accidental species with less than 3 records in the last 30 years or a species that has only been recorded a total of 5 or fewer times in the ABA area (for a review of these codes, click here, for all ABA gull codes, click here). There are currently three gulls that fall under this category: Swallow-tailed, Gray-hooded and Belcher's Gull.


Swallow-tailed Gull (Creagrus furcatus)
Monotypic. Breeds primarily on the Galapagos Islands with much smaller population on Isla Malpelo, Columbia. When not breeding, most take to the open seas where they're found feeding in the Humbolt Current in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, mainly between southern Colombia and Central Peru (Howell and Dunn, 2007).

Records in the ABA Area: 2 (both from California)
  1. First record. Adult. Occurred on 6-7 June, 1985. Found by Alan Baldridge at Pacific Grove in Monterey County, California and then relocated by Ed Harper and others some 15 miles north the next day at Jetty Road SP at Moss Landing. 
    • Photographs were obtained at both locations.
    • Many observers.
    • After 4 rounds of voting and 9 years of contentious debate, the bird was rejected by the CBRC, not because of questionable identity, but on the basis of questionable provenance. 
    • Later accepted in 2007 by the CLC.
  2. Second record. Adult. Occurred on 3 March, 1996. Found by Larry Spear roughly 15 miles west of Southeast Farallon Island.
    • No verifiable evidence.
    • Single observer.
    • After 2 rounds of voting and a 4-year delay, the CBRC unanimously accepted this report*.    
*Note: The addition of Swallow-tailed Gull to the ABA Checklist was not a result of this record (the lack of verifiable evidence prevented such an addition). In 2007, the CLC revoted on and accepted the first report from Monterey County, subsequently adding the species to the ABA Checklist. The CLC's decision was an informed one based mainly on a clearer understanding of the tendency for gulls to vagrate. 


Gray-hooded Gull (Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus)
Two subspecies. Also known as Grey-headed Gull, this Code-5 species is unique in that it comes from two continents. The larger nominate race, cirrocephalus, is found locally along both coasts of South America, primarily from southern Ecuador to southern Peru and in eastern Argentina (Howell and Dunn, 2007). The African subspecies, poiocephalus, is found locally at equatorial latitudes on both coasts, along the southern cone, down to South Africa (Olsen and Larsson, 2003). This species has a fragmented breeding range throughout both continents. Continent of origin of ABA reports uncertain.

Records in the ABA Area: 2 (Florida and New York)
  1. First record. Adult in alternate plumage. Occurred on 26 December, 1998. Found by Douglas B. McNair at the boat landing outside the headquarters of St. Vincent NWR in Apalachicola, Franklin County, Florida.
    • Photos obtained.
    • Two observers; D. B. McNair and photographed by T.L. Lewis.
    • Observation time less than 2 hours.
    • First photographically documented record for all of North America.
    • Unanimously accepted by FOSRC; subsequently added to ABA Checklist.  
  2. Second record. Adult in early prebasic molt with diminshed breeding aspect. Occurred on 24 July, 2011. Found by Sara Burch and Jacob McCartney on Coney Island near Nathan's Famous, Kings County, New York. Later identified and made public by Doug Gochfeld via eBird report.
    • Photos obtained.
    • Many observers
    • Occurred from 24 July 2011, presumably through 4 August 2011.
    • Unanimously accepted by the NYSARC, December 2011.

Belcher's Gull (Larus belcheri)
Monotypic. Once regarded as conspecific with Olrog's Gull (L. atlanticus) but now split. Formerly known as Band-tailed Gull (appropriate for L. belcheri when referring to lumped grouping). Peruvian Gull used by some locals. Coastal breeder from northern Peru south to northern Chile (Howell and Dunn, 2007).

Records in the ABA Area: 2-6 (Florida and California)

Up to 4 records from Florida although none have gone before the FOSRC. Note, these sightings are all from the late 1960s through the mid 1970s and are "pre-FOSRC reports" that are in the process of being reviewed. Questions regarding provenance and confusion with the then conspecific Olrog's Gull (L. atlanticus) will have to be addressed.
  1. First sighting: early September, 1968.* An ill bird was found outside of Pensacola and taken to a zoo near Cantonment. It died in captivity at this same zoo some 15 years later in late November, 1983. Photographs housed at the Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee support Belcher's Gull.
  2. Second sighting: 6 June, 1970. Found by C. Olson and B. Catley. Photos do not provide a clear distinction between L. b. belcheri (Band-tailed) versus L.b. atlanticus (Olrog's). 
  3. Third sighting: 11 Nov 1974 through 20 Jan 1975 of an apparent adult, found by T. Below and W. Burkett at Cape Romano/Naples. Video recordings sent to the AMNH and a photo published in American Birds (29:681) support Belcher's Gull.
  4. Fourth sighting: 5 January through early March, 1976. Found, again, by T. Below in Naples. This is believed to have been the same individual from the previous year. Photographs can be found in American Birds (30:709).
*Note: as unusual as it is to keep gulls in captivity, Charles P. Chase admitted to importing several "Band-tailed Gulls" to Miami in 1968. Coincidentally, this was the same year L.b. belcheri was recorded in FL. Chase insisted that none escaped from his collection nor were any sold in Florida (Auk Vol 93:177).

Two records from California - one rejected and one accepted.
  1. First record. Adult, presumed "Band-tailed Gull". Occurred on 9 November 1987 through 28 January 1988. Found on San Nicolas Island - California's most remote Channel Island, which is part of Ventura County.
    • Sketches provided but no verifiable evidence .
    • Observed 4-5 times over the course of almost 3 months by a single observer.
    • Record rejected (8 yes, 2 no).
    • The two "no" votes felt important details were lacking such as subspecific identity and elimination of hybrids.
  2. Second record. Adult. Occurred on 3 August 1997. Found by Doug Shaw at the mouth of the Tijuana River near Imperial Beach, San Diego County, California. Identified by Kimball Garrett.
    • Photos obtained.
    • Many observers.
    • This bird was seen on-and-off from 3 August 1997 through 2 Jan 1998.
    • Accepted by CBRC.

Gray Gull (Leucophaeus modestus)
There is a confusing account of a probable Gray Gull that was reported and photographed in Louisiana (December, 1987). The photo does not lend itself to a definite identification. The primary concern is whether the bird is a melanistic Laughing Gull. Only two photos were provided and both are less than ideal images, although other photos were taken by other observers who did not submit their images (including an open wing shot). The LBRC did not endorse this record and the CLC has not been able to obtain any further evidence. Click here for a photo, provided by Shawneen Finnegan, who first found the bird with Paul Lehman.