Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens): Barry Kent Mackay

The Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens) is usually the most common “seagull” seen along North America’s west coast from Washington State northward, nesting mostly on islands to about half way up the coast of British Columbia. They are large, and, when in adult plumage, white with a grey mantle. They winter as far south as Mexico and odd individuals may wander far, with some records from western Europe.

In breeding season, to the south along the U.S. Pacific coast, one starts to encounter the closely related Western Gull (L. occidentalis), which has a very dark grey, almost black, back. Where they come together they regularly produce hybrids known as Olympic Gulls. They also will occasionally hybridize with American Herring Gull (L. (argentatussmithsonianus), producing a form popularly called the Cook Inlet Gull. There are experts who delight in figuring out all the permutations of hybrids among these three species and others, pouring over minutiae of wing tip patterns, foot and beak colour, wing extension and so on, but it can all become too confusing for me. And yet I love to draw and paint gulls!  This one is an adult in winter plumage. 

I am often given the pleasure and honor of doing cover paintings for Ontario Birds, the journal of the Ontario Field Ornithologists, published quarterly. But for this August’s cover art by a skilled Canadian bird artist had already been chosen. One problem: the accompanying article, already delayed two issues, still was not ready! I need lots of time for oil paintings, but there was little time left. I was given a list of appropriate species. After conferring with the editor, I decided I could do this species, which I’ve carefully studied and sketched in Victoria, B.C., as there was an article about the first Ontario sighting of a Glaucous-winged Gull, in Sault Ste. Marie, recorded in December, 2020. There would no time to do an appropriate background, which at any rate, would show a west coast environment. The Ontario bird was with American Herring Gulls, amid snow and ice. No kelp; no starfish. I finally decided on a very simple setting of wet sand, which could be anywhere and could reflect colours of surroundings not seen. No time to add the other gulls. But it looked too plain!  What to do? Finally, I decided there was time to add one element…a rock. I hurriedly entered one big, brown rock completely from my imagination. Geologists will doubtless recognize that there is no such rock in nature, or if there is, it is simply by accident. With skillful editing in the placement of title and text, I think it worked out. 

These gulls feed on fish and other marine life, carrion and food waste. They weigh in, on average, just over a kilogram (approximately two and a quarter pounds).  They normally lay two or three eggs in ground nests, sometimes solitarily, but often in colonies in protected areas such as islands. Chicks take about six weeks to fledge. One Glaucous-winged Gull, banded in B.C., lived more than 37 years, probably well over twice the normal lifespan, although birds in their 20s have been recorded.  The painting is in oils, on compressed hardboard, 24 X 18 inches.  I was delighted that the painting sold, before it was quite dry, to, appropriately, a retired gull biologist.

Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905) 472 9731

Purchase, print, product info:

31 Colonel Butler Drive

Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada

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