Ross's Gull

Rhodostethia rosea Order: Charadriiformes Family: Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
Rhodostethia rosea Order: Charadriiformes Family: Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

In breeding plumage, this dainty gull is perhaps the most beautiful of its family, soft glowing pink with a elegantly delicate black collar. It’s about the same size as the Little Gull and noticeably tinier than Bonaparte’s Gull. Its extremely long wings and wedge-shaped tail give it a graceful, attenuated shape whether in flight or on the ground.

It’s not particularly uncommon in its breeding range in the high Arctic of northernmost North America and northeast Siberia, though a small breeding population in Churchill, Manitoba, discovered in 1980, seem to have disappeared in the 1990s. Ross’s Gull migrates only short distances south in autumn, most of the population wintering in northern latitudes at the edge of the pack ice in the northern Bering Sea and in the Sea of Okhotsk, but a few dozen vagrants have appeared here and there in the Lower-48 over the years, almost always in winter.

The first Ross’s Gull ever recorded in the Lower-48 was found in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on March 2, 1975—the very day I started birding, though I didn’t hear of this sighting (or even pay much attention to its entry in my field guide) for quite a few years. But hundreds of other birders throughout North America and Europe flocked to Newburyport to see it, making headlines all over the country. This event was credited with raising the profile of birding in the United States as birders discovered how many others shared their interest. That Ross’s Gull was called the “bird of the century.”

The one that showed up at Wisconsin Point in Superior at the end of May 2023, who I saw on June 3 and 4 (I missed it on my first couple of tries), is the only Ross’s Gull I’ve ever photographed. It was last seen the day after I last saw it—an exceptionally late date for the Lower 48. It disappeared at the same time that another rarity here in the United States, a Little Gull, and a fairly large flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls also disappeared, so the hope is that all the birds safely moved on.

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