Ballona Photography | Meet the Heermanns

Meet the Heermanns

July 23, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Because of their very distinct, eye-catching coloring, Heermann's Gulls are one of my favorite Gulls.  Curious to know more about them, I learned that the Herrmann's are one of the few birds wintering in Ballona Wetlands to head south to breed, rather than north.  Their breeding destination is Isla Rasa, an uninhabited island in the Gulf of Mexico about 700 to 800 miles south of here.  Isla Rasa is the primary nesting site for 90-95% of the world's Heermann's Gulls.  Because of their extremely specific breeding location, Heermann's Gulls are listed as a "Near Threatened" species.  In 2009 the sardine population in the Gulf of Mexico plummeted, which seriously impacted the Heermann's Gulls during breeding season.  In 2015, the sardine population plummeted on the Pacific West Coast, again impacting the Heermann's Gulls population during the non-breeding season. (In both locations, the plummeting sardine populations seriously affected all fish-eating seabirds and marine mammal species, not just the Heermann’s Gulls.) 

Adults have a medium gray body, blackish-gray wings and tail with white edges, and a red bill with a black tip. The head is white in breeding plumage and mottled or dusky gray in non-breeding plumage.

Breeding Adult, Jan 2016

Non-Breeding Adult, July 2017

In Mid-July, Heermann’s Gulls started arriving at our Southern California beaches, where they will stay until late winter, 2018.  In the winter of 2014/2015, the local flock at Playa Del Rey was around 3-4 dozen birds, with many first year and juveniles in the mix.  According to local birders active on the LACoBirds Yahoo group, sightings of first year Heermann’s Gulls and second year juveniles among the arriving flocks are much lower than usual.  This year, the flock I’ve noticed on the beach in Playa Del Rey continues to grow daily, now up to a couple dozen birds as I write this.  So far, I’m not seeing any first and second year birds here.  Hopefully, they’re still on their way.  If you happen to see any, enjoy the site of them and celebrate the twice-annual trek they go through to be here!

Adults with two juveniles, Jan 2015

Juvenile & 1st year Heermann’s, Nov 2014. Immatures resemble non-breeding adults but are darker, more brown, and the bill is flesh-colored or pink till the second winter.

1st year Heermann’s, Jan 2016

Note this young one is missing its left foot.  I wonder if that happened before, during its journey from Isla Rasa, or after its arrival here.  Tough first year for this little guy!



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