Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Matter of Laughing Gulls, and "Occupy Hamburg"

Larus iribundus, a name given to the Black-headed Gull by Linnaeus in 1766, means Laughing Gull in Latin -- I saw large numbers of this gull while visiting my family in Hamburg, Germany -- and so in German, French and Spanish they are properly called  "Laughing Gull". I don't know why the English didn't follow suit, naming it Black-headed Gull instead, and to add to the confusion, they stuck the name "Laughing Gull" on another unrelated gull, Larus atricilla, a gull which is common in North America.

Black-headed Gulls are a rarity along the Northeast coast, but are quite common in Europe. They are a bit larger than the Bonaparte's Gulls, but resemble them in many other respects. They are gregarious and quite tame and unlike the stand-offish Bonaparte's they  come in great numbers when offered a hand-out.  I took these photos with my little Canon Powershot at a canal in the city center of Hamburg (except for the two adult gulls below).

For comparison, adult Black-headed Gull above and Bonaparte's Gull below

 First Cycle Black-headed Gull above

The white triangle in the outer wing is characteristic for both Black-headed and Bonaparte's Gulls. An immature Hering Gull has joined the feeding frenzy.

A Mute Swan takes center spot


Mute Swans, Black-headed Gulls and Eurasian Coots


Eurasian Coots look a little like first winter American Coots

My sister and I took a leisurely stroll through Hamburg City. The English have their afternoon tea, the Germans their afternoon coffee, which is usually taken with a piece of pastry of some sort. Stopping for such a coffee break is one of the pleasures of sight-seeing and window shopping. We first stopped at Starbuck's but finding no seats we moved on to the cosy and old-fashioned Wiener Cafe Wirth  where we had had a hard time deciding among all the delectable pastries which one to pick.

Along the way we came across a small and rather puny encampment on one of the city's  squares proclaiming to represent "Occupy Hamburg".

We are the 99%

Germany is a rich country with a broad well-off middle class. There the top 1% controls only about 4% of the nation's wealth, whereas here in the States the top 1% controls 37%. So "Occupy Hamburg" seems to have little appeal. You might call it a wet noodle of a protest.

Thanks for visiting. I would very much appreciate your comment.


  1. Very interesting about the name Laughing Gull- definitely makes things confusing. I love the photo of the Mute Swan with all the gulls begging for handouts... So tall!

  2. Hi Hilke

    Bird nomenclature has always been something of a mystery to me but I loved your photos of the gulls by any name. I must say I would be a bit nervous about being that close to the Swan but I am a pessimist/sissy. I really did enjoy the photo, I loved the huge size discrepancy.
    I hope you enjoyed your trip and that everything went well.


  3. Thanks Jen and Guy. The swan was quite pushy and followed me for a bit when I walked away. i wouldn't have dared hand-feeding him! The woman feeding the birds however said that none of them have ever hurt her.

  4. A wonderful post Hilke and your images are fantastic to see as always..
    I have loads of (our) Black-headed Gulls around here and I have to admit I was unaware of your Laughing Gull info.. so many thanks for sharing. (I struggle with Gull ID at the best of times with all the different plumages over the years).
    Tea for me in the afternoon (laughing) but I would def try one of those pastries..

    Great to hear you had a wonderful trip to Germany.
    It really is a small world these days.. my son is currently in the US visiting Las Vegas and San Francisco.
    Take care

  5. Interesting post Hilke.
    To add to the confusion with us calling the gull, 'Black-headed'; it has a chocolate brown head lol

  6. Great photos and an interesting description of your stroll through Hamburg City. The gulls are interesting - but confusing in all their plumages.

  7. I agree, Mick and Andrew, gull id is a great challenge. I don't know how many id inquiries I have sent to birdforum.net!
    Chocolate brown indeed. Irony upon irony! Thanks for your comment, holdingmoments.

  8. so many gulls. They have left Sweden now and I miss them a little.

  9. Gorgeous shots! The detail is wonderful!

  10. What a wonderful city. Just beautiful. When East and West Germany were reunited I marveled at the unity and resolve of the German people to make it work. There is much to be proud of there.
    What a clutter of city birds, and I did notice the pigeons were giving the gulls right of way! Surprising to see a Mute swan begging so respectfully!
    Cheers to you Hilke!

  11. I don't think I have ever seen a gull with a black head.
    I don't know what to think about the "Occupy Hamburg", maybe they just didn't want to be left out.

  12. Interesting to see the difference between the two gulls and also the differences in the young making identification for the amateur rather difficult. So nice to see Hamburg in gleaming sunshine.

  13. beautiful gulls. the mute swan standing tall is amazing! :)

  14. great shots, that swam looks huge compared to the other birds!

  15. Love looking at the gulls. I did see the coot while in Amsterdam but didn't know its i.d.
    Interesting facts on Occupy Hamburg.

  16. Great captures! I love the Mute Swan standing up amid all the gulls!

  17. A most interesting post! All the gulls are beautiful. Fabulous shot of the Mute Swan amongst the hungry gulls! Lovely Eurasian Coots. Terrific post!

  18. Beautiful photos!
    Love the Mute Swan.

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  20. Sorry, had a bad misspelled word. I love the Mute Swan too. It looks almost tame in your shot. Great post!

  21. Those gulls would be awfully hard to tell apart if the black-head were hanging out over here! What a pretty little birds. sounds like you had a great time! I have seen Bonaparte's, but not the black-headed.

  22. Hi there - was going to make the same point as holdingmoments - its not black at all!

    But then again my gulls are not silver either!

    Stewart M - Australia

  23. Gull shots were great and I esp. enjoyed with the Swan in the middle. Your 'virtual tour' of Hamburg also interesting. Looks like a pretty city, even with wet noodle prostesters! Ha ha!

  24. I enjoyed this post, Hilke! I studied at the University of Hamburg in 1985 (so long ago!) and always loved walking the city central. You brought back memories. Love the photos of the gull as well!

  25. Thank you all for your comments!
    Kelly, that's amazing! I studied at the Hochschule fuer bildende Kuenste in Hamburg, but never at the university.

  26. Hilke, I just want to thank you for your comment on my blog about the tern. Nice to know that you could not find that plumage/beak/leg color combo in a field guide either!

  27. that bonaparte gull is a cutie!!
    great shots~


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