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Birds of the St. Croix River Valley: Minnesota and Wisconsin

FAMILY LARIDAE

Gulls and Terns


Herring Gull -- Ring-billed Gull -- Franklin's Gull -- Bonaparte's Gull -- Ivory Gull -- Sabine's Gull -- Common Tern -- Least Tern -- Forster's Tern -- Caspian Tern -- Black Tern

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

Status: Regular migrant and casual summer resident.

Migration: Common migrant throughout the inland areas, locally abundant along the St. Croix River. Spring migrants return in late February and reach peak abundance 25 March to 20 April. Most have departed by 15 May (latest-25 May 1969, Washington County). Fall migrants arrive during the last 2 weeks of September. Peak abundance occurs 15 October to 1 November and birds depart by 15 December.

Summer: A casual summer resident along the lower St. Croix River. Herring gulls summered in Washington County in 1968 and were observed in Washington County from 14 to 19 July 1975 (Eckert 1976).

Winter: A casual early winter resident in the lower St. Croix River Valley. On 1 January 1972 and 1 January 1975, two herring gulls were observed along the St. Croix River near Hudson (Afton CBC).

Habitat: Largely restricted to larger water bodies, including permanent lakes and the St. Croix River.


Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

Status: Regular migrant.

Migration: Abundant spring and fall migrant throughout the Valley. Spring migrants return 10-20 March. Peak abundance occurs between 15 April and 1 May and departure by 20 May. Fall migrants arrive in early September (earliest-24 August 1961, Burnett County). Peak abundance occurs between 15 September and 1 October. Flocks totaling 200 individuals are common during this period, and flocks of 500 are regularly observed. Fall migrants depart by 10 November (latest-17 November 1965, St Croix County and 26 November 1976, Washington County).

Habitat: Ring-billed gulls use a variety of wetland types during migration including semipermanently and permanently flooded wetlands, large lakes, and the St. Croix River. During fall migration, ring-billed gulls make extensive use of recently plowed agricultural fields.


Franklin's Gull (Larus pipixcan)

Status: Regular migrant.

Migration: Rare migrant in the Western Upland and at Crex Meadows, Burnett County; absent from the forested regions. Spring migrants arrive between 25 April and 1 May (earliest-13 April 1954, Burnett County) and departure occurs by 25 May. Fall migrants arrive 20-25 September. Peak abundance occurs 1-20 October and departure by 10 November. During peak fall migration, Franklin's gulls are commonly found in association with ring-billed gulls on freshly plowed agricultural fields in western St. Croix County. Flocks of 200 to 300 are not uncommon and during the mid-1960's, S. D. Robbins occasionally found flocks of 1,500 Franklin's gulls in mid-October. Migrants follow a rather narrow migration path through the Western Upland; the major route is associated with the area of Prairie Wetlands. Franklin's gull is virtually absent east of R. 17 W. in St. Croix and Polk counties.

Habitat: Largely restricted to semipermanently and permanently flooded wetlands. Extensive use is made of agricultural fields during fall migration.


Bonaparte's Gull (Larus philadelphia)

Status: Regular migrant.

Migration: Uncommon migrant throughout the Valley, fairly common on the prairie wetlands of St. Croix and Washington counties. Spring migrants return between 25 April and 1 May (earliest-12 April 1971, Washington County). Peak abundance occurs 10-15 May and departure by 25 May. Fall migrants arrive about 10 September. Peak abundance occurs 20 September to 1 October and birds depart by 25 October. During the fall, Bonaparte's gulls are most commonly found along the St. Croix River, becoming rare to absent elsewhere.

Habitat: Primarily a species of large semipermanently and permanently flooded wetlands, and open expanses of the St. Croix River.


Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea)

Status: Hypothetical.

Record: N. R. Stone observed three adults at the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, Burnett County, on 3 April 1959 (Stone 1959b).


Sabine's Gull (Xema sabini)

Status: Hypothetical.

Record: A single immature was observed on 1 October 1944 along the St. Croix River at Stillwater, Washington County (Longley 1947).


Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

Status: Regular migrant and casual summer resident.

Migration: Fairly common migrant near the St. Croix River, uncommon to rare elsewhere in the Western Upland and Central Plain, and rare to absent in the Northern Highland. Spring migrants arrive 20-25 April. Peak spring abundance occurs 10-20 May and departure by 30 May. Fall migrants return 25 August to 5 September and depart by 25 September.

Nesting Season Distribution: A casual summer resident in St. Croix and Washington counties; most summering birds are found along the St. Croix River. Establishment of nesting common terns along the lower St. Croix is seemingly possible, because a small group of common terns summer near the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers at Ft. Snelling in the Twin Cities. Excessive recreational use of exposed beaches and sandy islands in the lower St. Croix is probably a major factor limiting colony establishment. If colonies are established at a future date, intensive restriction of human use will be necessary.

Habitat: Primarily a species of large permanently flooded wetlands and sandy beaches and islands of the St. Croix River.


Least Tern (Sterna albifrons)

Status: Accidental, one record.

Record: R. A. Knuth observed an adult on Phantom Lake, Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, Burnett County, on 17 August 1971 (Roberts and Roberts 1972). This bird was observed by over 60 people during a Wisconsin Society for Ornithology field trip.


Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri)

Status: Regular migrant and casual summer resident. The WDNR listed this species as endangered (Les 1979).

Migration: Fairly common spring and rare fall migrant in the Western Upland and Central Plain, casual in the Northern Highland. Spring migrants arrive 20-25 April and are most commonly observed 5-15 May. Departure of spring migrants occurs by 25 May. Fall migrants arrive between 1-5 September and depart by 1 October.

Summer: A casual summer resident in St. Croix and Washington counties. The presence of summering birds suggests nesting; however, no nests or young have been recorded. This tern occurs with greatest frequency during the summer on the wetlands in St. Croix and Washington counties.

Habitat: Migrants are observed in association with large semipermanently and permanently flooded wetlands. Observations of summering birds have been restricted primarily to permanently flooded wetlands that support extensive growths of cattail and hardstem bulrush along the periphery of the basin.


Caspian Tern (Sterna caspia)

Status: Regular migrant.

Migration: Rare migrant in the Western Upland, casual or absent elsewhere. Spring migrants arrive about 1 May (earliest-8 April 1961, Burnett County). Peak abundance occurs 10-20 May and departure by 25 May (latest-30 May 1924, Chisago County; Roberts 1938: 2 June 1974, Washington County; Eckert 1975). Fall migrants arrive about 1 September and have departed by 25 September. During both migration periods, Caspian terns are most regularly observed on the St. Croix River. Away from the river, they are less common and more irregular in occurrence.

Habitat: Largely restricted to open expanses of the St. Croix River and large permanently flooded wetlands.


Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)

Status: Regular migrant and nesting species.

Migration: Fairly common migrant in the Western Upland and Central Plain; uncommon in the Northern Highland. Spring migrants arrive 25 April to 1 May, reaching peak abundance about 15 May. Fall migrants reach peak numbers about 10 August and have departed by 1 September (latest-4 October 1965, Washington County).

Nesting Season Distribution: A fairly common nesting species in the prairie wetland region of St. Croix, Washington, and southern Polk counties, becoming less common in the forested regions. Breeding populations of the black tern have declined sharply in Wisconsin. During 1966-75, Robbins (1977) noted a 14% annual decrease in the statewide breeding population. A census of breeding black terns in St. Croix County showed a decrease from 42 pairs in 1975 to 9 pairs in 1977 (Faanes 1979).

Habitat: Black terns are a characteristic species of large seasonally and semipermanently flooded wetlands that support an abundance of emergent aquatic vegetation. Most nests that I have examined were on a floating vegetation mat, usually composed of submerged plants and emergent plant leaves. In the northern forested regions, black terns are less common as a nesting species. In this region, large, acidic wetlands are most regularly used for nesting.


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