Great Black-backed Gull / Humber Bay: November 23, 2018


It’s times like this when I really miss my Grandfather; ornithologist Dr. J. Murray Speirs.

In his day, he was the recognized gull identification expert in Southern Ontario. If there was a group of 500 gulls standing on ice in the lake, he would carefully inspect each through the lens of his telescope. If I were with him, my job was to carry this heavy item and set it up. Then I would stand shivering for however long it took him to fully inspect the flock.

To most people all gulls look alike. Most of the gulls that we saw this morning were Ring-billed Gulls which are about 19 inches (48 cm) long. During several instances of the walk, we did see a few much larger gulls. In fact, one of them stood directly in front of us on the path enjoying what appeared to be a recently caught catfish:

Earlier, I had seen probably the same bird with the same meal on the beach:

Later it continued munching in the lake:

It is clearly a gull, but to identify it, I pulled out three different field guides which feature many photos and drawings of gulls. The photographed gull is an immature gull which are more difficult to identify than adults. They are usually darkest the first year, lighter the second, and in the larger species may not be fully adult until the third or fourth year.

So what is the large gull we saw this morning?

After looking at dozens of photos and drawings, I have come to the conclusion that it is a Great Black-back Gull.

Great Black-backed Gull

It is likely a second-cycle gull with its distinctive stout bill with a paler base, low-sloping forehead and whitish ground colour to head and underparts. Great Black-backs are 28 – 31 inches long (70 – 78 cm)

Great Black-backed Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Here are some photos from Humber Bay on this 0 degree day which started cloudy and became sunny as we walked.

There is lots of Nannyberry at Humber Bay and here is a photo of the distinctive bud:

Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago)

Beavers are also present:

We had 22 bird species and here are some of them:

Common Goldeneye (male)

Red-necked Grebe (winter plumage)

Long-tailed Ducks (male)

Downy Woodpecker

Song Sparrow


American Wigeon (male)

Hooded Merganser (female)

Hooded Merganser (male) and Gadwall (male)

Gadwall (female)

Mute Swan

Mallard (male)

Mallard (male) “tipping” for food

and a few Great Blue Herons:

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Species list: red-necked grebe, great blue heron, mute swan, Canada goose, mallard, gadwall, American wigeon, redhead, bufflehead, lesser scaup, long-tailed duck, common goldeneye, hooded merganser, red-breasted merganser, great black-backed gull, herring gull, ring-billed gull, downy woodpecker, black-capped chickadee, house sparrow, northern cardinal,  song sparrow.  (22 species)

Miles Hearn

                                              NATURE POETRY

Shorter and shorter now the twilight clips
The days, as though the sunset gates they crowd.

– Alice Cary (1820–71)




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