Thayer's Gull (thayeri)

(last update: January 22, 2013)

Amar Ayyash (USA)
Mars Muusse (Netherlands)

Thayer's Gull 4cy (3rd cycle) / sub-adult January


BY: Neal G. Smith (Dept. of Conservation, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York)
IN: Ibis 06-2008.

Various aspects of the breeding of three gulls, Larus thayeri, glaucoides and hyperboreus, which nested in colonies both on cliff ledges and on level ground in the eastern Canadian Arctic, were compared with those of the ground-nesting L. argentatus and the cliff-nesting Rissa tridactyla. As the result of adaptation to cliff ledge nesting, many aspects of the breeding biology of R. tridactyla were strikingly different from those of the ground-nesting European L. argentatus, but the behaviour of L. thayeri, glaucoides and hyperboreus clearly spanned these differences.Cliff-nesting individuals of thayeri and glaucoides were most like Rissa; ground-nesting individuals of these species were most like argentatus. L. thayeri was more like Rissa than was glaucoides. With but few exceptions, both cliff- and ground-nesting individuals of hyperboreus were most like argentatus. The factors responsible for the intra-specific differences between cliff- and ground-nesters of thayeri and glaucoides are not clear.

Limited gene exchange between cliff and ground colonies occurs. Because of physical features of the nest, first-laid eggs were more liable to fall from ledges than second or third eggs. L. thayeri and glaucoides have evolved separate mechanisms to cope with this problem. Egg shape was multimodal in thayeri and glaucoides. Long pyriform eggs were less liable to fall from ledges than eggs of other shapes. L. thayeri laid more long pyriform eggs as first eggs than did glaucoides. L. thayeri lost fewer eggs than did glaucoides, but glaucoides replaced all lost eggs while thayeri did not. Delayed follicular atresia provided glaucoides with insurance of egg replacement. In thayeri, accessory follicles were reabsorbed after the first egg was laid; in argentatus, after the second egg, and in glaucoides after the third egg. At the approach of a predator, it was advantageous for cliff-dwelling chicks to remain motionless but for ground-dwelling chicks to flee their nests and to hide. Among the cliff-nesters, the “freezing in place” reaction of chicks was best developed in thayeri, to a lesser extent in glaucoides, and least in hyperboreus. Among the ground-nesters, chicks of glaucoides and hyperboreus behaved like those of argentatus and fled their nests when disturbed, but chicks of thayeri froze like their cliff-dwelling siblings. Reciprocal transfers of eggs and chicks between cliff and ground colonies indicated that in argentatus, glaucoides and hyperboreus, the factors determining a chick's reaction to disturbance came into play between hatching and the eighth day. In thayeri, the reaction appeared to be effectively innate. Chicks of glaucoides showed a greater predisposition to this behaviour than chicks of argentatus after both had received identical experience on cliff ledges. In thayeri, stereotypy of the freezing reaction has probably been a factor limiting the colonisation of areas where cliffs are scarce but predators present. In argentatus, lack of perfection of this behaviour (compared to glaucoides and thayeri) has probably been a factor preventing argentatus from attaining cliff ledges. L. hyperboreus, although nowhere abundant, is a widespread species nesting on level ground and on cliff ledges but lacking the modifications observed in glaucoides and thayeri; this is due to its size and aggressiveness, the fact that it picks nest-sites before glaucoides and thayeri arrive in the colonies, and that on cliffs it chooses the largest and most level ledges.

Thayer's Gull 3rd cycle (4CY), mid-January 2014, central California, US. Picture: Amar Ayyash.
Thayer's Gull 3rd cycle (4CY), mid-January 2014, central California, US. Picture: Amar Ayyash.
Thayer's Gull 3rd cycle (4CY), mid-January 2014, central California, US. Picture: Amar Ayyash.
Thayer's Gull sub-adult, mid-January 2014, central California, US. Picture: Amar Ayyash.
Thayer's Gull 3rd cycle (4CY), January 01 2012, Tukwila, WA. Picture: Amar Ayyash.