Utah State Bird - California Gull

The California Gull, Larus californicus, is a medium-sized gull, smaller than the Herring Gull but larger than the Ring-billed Gull.

Adults are similar in appearance to the Herring Gull, but have a smaller yellow bill with a black ring, yellow legs, brown eyes and a more rounded head. The body is mainly white with grey back and upper wings. They have black primaries with white tips. Immature birds are also similar in appearance to immature Herring Gulls, with browner plumage than immature Ring-billed Gulls.

Their breeding habitat is lakes and marshes in western North America. They nest in colonies, sometimes with other birds. The nest is a shallow depression on the ground lined with vegetation and feathers. The female usually lays 2 or 3 eggs. Both parents feed the young birds.

They are migratory, most moving to the Pacific coast in winter.

These birds forage in flight or pick up objects while swimming, walking or wading. They mainly eat insects, fish and eggs. They also scavenge at garbage dumps or docks. They may follow plows in fields for insects stirred up by this activity.

This is the state bird of Utah, remembered for assisting Mormon settlers in dealing with a plague of Mormon crickets. A Seagull Monument in Salt Lake City commemorates this event, known as the "Miracle of the Gulls".


California Gull

(Larus californious)
Adopted on February 14, 1955.

The California gull (Larus californicus) became the official state bird on February 14, 1955, when House Bill 51 was signed into law by Gov. J Bracken Lee (Utah Code 63-13-9). The bill was introduced by Richard C. Howe a member of the House of Representatives.

The gull was first protected under Utah law because it is an insectivorous bird (feeds on insects). It was protected along with the owl, hawk, lark, whippoorwill, thrush, swallow, snowbird, and any other insectivorous or song birds. The California gull was chosen as the state bird because it was credited with saving the pioneer's crops from complete destruction in the summer of 1848.

Chiefly found in the interior regions, the California gull breeds on inland lakes from Canada south to Mono Lake, California, Great Salt Lake, and Yellowstone Lake, Wyoming. It winters along the Pacific Coast and inland in Utah, Oregon, and California. The mature California gull measures from twenty to twenty-three inches in length and has greenish yellow feet, a medium gray mantle, and a bill with an orange spot near the tip of the lower mandible. The outer primaries are black, tipped with white, the first two with subterminal white spots.

The gull is about two feet long. The color of this bird is pearly-blue. It is sometimes barred or streaked with blackish gray. Aeronautic wizards, gulls are gymnasts of the sky, making the seemingly impossible appear effortless. They can appear motionless in midair by catching wind currents with perfect timing and precision while positioning their bodies at just the right angle. They are quiet birds, considered quite beneficial by agriculturalists, and are usually gentle creatures, exhibiting neither antagonism to nor fondness for man.

  • Length: 17 inches Wingspan: 52 inches
  • Medium-sized gull
  • Fairly large bill with distinct gonydeal angle
  • Fairly rounded forehead and smaller bill give more "gentle" appearance than Herring Gull
Adult alternate
  • Bright yellow bill with complete black ring distal to red spot at gonys
  • Bright yellow legs
  • Brown eye
  • White head, neck, breast, and belly
  • Gray back and upperwings
  • White tertial crescent
  • Black primaries with white tips and two white mirrors on outer primaries
Adult basic
  • Like adult alternate but blurry brown streaking and spotting on head and nape
  • Black bill quickly developing pale pink base
  • Wholly brown body plumage
  • Dark brown primaries
  • Dark brown secondaries and greater secondary coverts appears as double dark bar on trailing edge of wing in flight
  • Black legs quickly become pink
  • Dark outer primaries
  • Dark tail
  • Pale rump marked with bark bars and appears dark
  • Green-yellow bill with black tip
  • Pale head, neck, upper breast, and belly with brown streaking
  • Dull brown upperwing coverts
  • Dark brown primaries and tail
  • Gray back
  • White tail with dark terminal band
  • Like adult basic, but often lacks adult bill pattern, wing pattern, and often retains a partial tail band
Kingdom Animalia -- animals
   Phylum Chordata -- chordates
      Subphylum Vertebrata -- vertebrates
         Class Aves -- birds
            Order Ciconiiformes -- albatrosses, alcids, auks, cormorants, diurnal birds of prey, eagles, falconiforms, falcons, flamingos, grebes, gulls, hawks, herons, ibises, loons, osprey, oystercatchers, pelicans, penguins, petrels, plovers, shearwaters, shore birds, storks, totipalmate swimmers, tube-nosed swimmers
               Family Laridae -- auks, guillemots, gulls, murres, puffins, terns
                  Genus Larus Linnaeus, 1758 -- gulls, ivory gulls, kittiwakes, ross' gulls, sabine's gulls
                     Species Larus californicus Lawrence, 1854 -- california gull, Gaviota californiana