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10,000 Birds Gulls Simplified: A Gull Book Review

10,000 Birds Gulls Simplified: A Gull Book Review

I’m not a larophile*, however a few of my favourite birders are.  It’s arduous to flee the mystic pull of eager to excel at gull identification. Much more than warbler, shorebird, and sparrow identification, this can be a area that exams our endurance (gull watching is just too typically completed in bitter chilly, windy circumstances), endurance (even getting one good photograph can take hours as you attempt to separate the ‘interesting gull’ from the flock), observational expertise (so many plumages!), and experience (one phrase–hybrids). But, when you’ll be able to determine gulls with ease, you KNOW you’re a birder. And, for all our complaints about brown and grey plumages, gulls could be lovely birds (properly, some extra lovely than others, and Heermann’s Gull is considered one of my favorites, with one N on the finish or two).

In a birding world that celebrates identification, there are surprisingly few articles and books on gull identification.** So, we have to carry a glass to 2018, a yr that has given us Gulls of the World: A Photographic Subject Information by Klaus Malling Olsen and Gulls Simplified: A Comparative Strategy to Identification by Pete Dunne and Kevin T. Karlson.

There’s been a variety of pleasure about this ebook. Pete Dunne and Kevin Karlson are two of probably the most prolific and well-known authors within the birding group. Pete Dunne has written and co-written 21 books (by my rely, Wikipedia must replace its entry!) on hawk identification, hen identification, and his musings on the pure world (most notably The Feather Quest). Kevin Karlson is co-author of The Shorebird Information, Birding by Impression, and The Birds of New Jersey. That is their second co-authored ebook. Dunne can also be recognized for his 37-year stint as director of the Cape Might Fowl Observatory and his 15,000 hours of collected hawkwatch time; Karlson is just one among our greatest (and most approachable within the subject) chook photographers. Each authors are skilled workshop educators at CMBO and birding festivals across the nation. So, the bar right here is excessive, there are expectations of fantastic writing, high-quality pictures, a pleasant but instructional strategy, and a excessive degree of experience (which is fascinating since each authors acknowledge within the Introduction that they don’t seem to be gull specialists). And, sure, they succeed on all factors, although, as normal, I’ve feedback.

The duvet is elegant–a calling Mew Gull atop naked branches towards a darkish background. Its simplicity echoes the e-book’s title, filled with guarantees that birders’ goals are product of. The subtitle–A Comparative Strategy to Identification–is the primary clue that there isn’t a magic gull key (or ring or capsule). Dunne and Karlson are presenting an alternate system of gull identification, one which they consider is easier than the normal emphasis on cycles and plumages. Their co-authorship is an interesting partnership of the avian colloquial, Dunne’s inventory in commerce, and visible schooling, an strategy at which Karlson excels.

The essential premise is that statement of traits resembling measurement, form, construction, and conduct, the identical traits Dunne writes about in his hawk books, might and must be used as the essential blocks of a ‘holistic’ identification course of. The hope and declare is that transferring this course of to gull identification works extra simply and simply as precisely (no less than for species) as an examination of plumage and molt patterns. The method doesn’t completely ignore plumage. Plumage patterns “augment” the identification course of, however they don’t drive it. You might say that the right-brain, the a part of the mind that’s intuitive and artistic, goes first, and the left-brain, the place the logic resides, is available in second to refine and substantiate the preliminary impression.

This isn’t a brand new concept. Steve N. G. Howell and Jon Dunn listing “overall size and structure” as the elemental first step in gull identification of their basic Gulls of the Americas (although they then go on to explain countless variations of plumage patterns). Jessie Barry writes that “with practice, experts can identify nearly all gulls by size and shape alone” in her 2010 article for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. And, Karlson himself has a piece on gulls in his 2015 ebook (co-authored with Dale Rosselet) Birding by Impression. However, nowhere else is that this strategy utilized to gulls with such comprehension and insouciance.

Dunne not solely sweeps apart larophiles’ concentrate on plumage as a symptom of an obsession with rarities, he rejects the cycle system employed by Howell and Dunn. As an alternative, plumages are merged into the three broad age courses–immature, subadult, and grownup–the identical age designation Dunne makes use of for raptors. Geographical chance can also be an essential a part of the method. The strategy assumes that you’re wanting on the gulls almost certainly to be present in your particular space, not that you can see one thing totally different.

Introduction–Conventional Gull ID Issues

Dunne and Karlson clarify all this within the Introduction, which consists of two elements–an Overview authored by Dunne alone, and a dialogue of Conventional Gull ID Issues by Dunne and Karlson. Pictures with in depth captions are interspersed, every one properly labeled as Intro 1, Intro 2, and so forth. Although a number of the photograph units illustrate factors being made within the textual content, others functioned to interrupt the narrative move.

Three useful sections precede the Introduction: Photograph and silhouette comparisons of gulls that breed in North America (see illustration above), Primary Anatomical Phrases illustrated with 4 diagrams, and a really selective Glossary. I notably just like the nutshell picture and silhouette pages, the latter harking back to The Shorebird Book. The web page numbers of every species’ species account part subsequent to its nutshell photograph would have been a pleasant addition, however I’m proud of these reference aids, medleys of horizontal and vertical shapes in crisp shades of white, grey, and black with touches of yellow. They’re a helpful introduction to the concept gulls’ shapes are certainly distinct.

Species Accounts

Gulls Simplified covers 25 species. Twenty are gulls more likely to be seen in North America; these are divided into three chapters: (1) Small to Medium-sized Gulls and Hooded Gulls, (2) Grey-backed White-headed Gulls, and (three) Giant Darkish-backed Gulls. 5 species are grouped in a chapter titled (four) Darkish Horse Gulls (Uncommon or Unlikely Gulls). And, then there’s a Hybrid Gulls chapter, overlaying 5 well-documented hybrids.

The start of every chapter begins with a shocking, full-page photograph of a gull on the left; every photograph exhibits the gull with wings raised, dealing with proper as if in expectation of fantastic issues. (The Hybrids web page is an exception, that includes a picture of a Little Gull with a flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls.) The best web page is headed with a broad darkish field highlighting chapter title and the widespread names of the gulls coated within the chapter. A number of, however not all the chapter headings additionally include textual content increasing on shared traits.

Every particular person Species Account begins with widespread identify, scientific identify, and measurements (sourced from Howell and Dunn’s Gulls of the Americas and Olsen and Larsen’s Gulls of North America, Europe, and Asia). And, that’s the place the resemblance to a typical subject information ends. As a result of this isn’t a subject information! It’s a Gulls Simplified information! So, primary information is adopted by a self-described “lighthearted” description of the species by Pete Dunne, starting from the acquainted (Lesser Black-backed Gull is “Black-backed Gull ‘lite’–a slimmer, trimmer triathlete of a gull”) to the ingenious (California Gull is “a Herring Gull drawn by El Greco with a Mormon cricket in its mouth.”)

From the Laughing Gull species account

The textual content correct is split into these sections: Profile, the must-read part; Standing and Distribution, full with vary map; two to 5 sections describe plumage and different anatomical identification options, divided into age teams. These range in accordance with species. So, Laughing Gull is described in its Grownup Breeding, Grownup Nonbreeding, Immature, and Subadult types; Western Gull is described in its Grownup, Immature, and Subadult types. Herring Gull, cited as “one of the more confusing gulls in the world” (p. 85), is described in 5 distinction varieties plus a observe that there are additionally hybrid prospects (that is very totally different from the outline in Pete Dunne’s Important Area Information Companion (2006), the place Dunne concludes that “there are only two plumages to deal with–immature and adult” (p. 263).

Every Profile covers the important thing info of the Gulls Simplified strategy–measurement, form, and construction, and general shade sample, specializing in each the entire hen and on invoice, head, legs, and wings. Essential identification factors are italicized. Comparisons are made with comparable gulls and different birds all through. So, Mew Gull is:

“a medium-small nimble, somewhat elegant gull with a refreshingly uncomplicated plumage pattern. Physical profile is horizontal, somewhat ternlike….Mew Gull is most commonly confused with the larger Ring-billed Gull but is more delicately proportioned, with a rounder head and a more slender, pointy, thrush-like bill. Dusky eyes on Mew Gull impart a gentle expression….” (p. 112)

The part additionally extensively covers conduct–flight type, how the gull sits on the water, whether or not the gull flocks with its personal type or with different birds, how the gull feeds. That is the sort of info I like to study and use within the subject. There’s in depth behavioral descriptions for acquainted gulls like Laughing, Ring-billed, and Herring, however far much less info on much less widespread species like Iceland Gull, whose profile primarily consists of the variations between the Kumlien and Thayer’s subspecies.

Vary Maps

The vary maps are from Howell and Dunn’s Gulls of the Americas and canopy all of North America, together with Mexico and Central America. In an interview on BirdCallsRadio, Dunne and Karlson state that the maps, which date from 2007, haven’t been up to date (although they’re smaller and I famous some variations within the shade codes), however that modifications in vary over the previous 11 years are usually not nice sufficient to make a distinction. I don’t know. I in contrast the maps to these within the Nationwide Geographic Area Information to the Birds of North America, seventh version (2017) and although, sure, a lot of the ranges stay the identical, there are some modifications. Lesser Black-backed Gull numbers are growing in Florida, the mid-Atlantic, and the West; Heermann’s Gull has been discovered casually in inland California and the Southwest. I’m positive there are different modifications. If you’ll state that geographic chance is a vital aspect in gull identification, then I feel it is very important have up-to-date vary maps, or, on the very least, articulate the dates the maps have been developed within the introduction to the Species Accounts relatively than the small print Acknowledgements.

Shut-up of Laughing Gull Vary Map

There are not any distribution maps for a lot of the Darkish Horse Gulls, except for Ivory gull, and although the textual content provides breeding or typical vagrancy vary, there’s little info on lower-48 sightings (the Ross’s Gull standing and distribution part begins with the remark, “You should be so lucky”). It might have been helpful to refer customers to eBird, the place one can simply lookup these data.

Species Accounts Photographs & Design

Photograph units illustrate and increase on the textual content info. A few of the units include pictures illustrating the vary of plumages for an age group, like those above; some are single photographs depicting consultant, comparative, or distinctive plumages, like these under. In depth captions element every hen’s plumage utilizing plain language, no ‘remiges’ or ‘retrices.’ Arrows level out anatomical elements or identification options; group pictures are labeled for species and age group.


In different phrases, the pictures are utilized in the absolute best means as instructional instruments. Karlson’s pictures are sharp, clear, nicely composed, typically distinctive, however it’s clear that every photograph was chosen as a result of it illustrates a selected level (or a number of factors) about identification of the topic species. Care has additionally been to rearrange the photograph units in order that they stability one another and the primary textual content. The highest Herring Gull web page, for examples, balances two horizontal photograph collection. The second web page, immediately above, arranges three photograph units, textual content about Herring Gull third winter birds, and textual content about hybrids in such a method that every half is narratively readable. Not a simple design feat!

General, the graphic design of Gulls Simplified is outstanding. I’ve already talked about how every chapter begins with a ravishing photograph. Headings on the left and proper pages determine chapter and species, so once you open the e-book at random you all the time know the place you’re. Font measurement and shade are used to distinguish photograph captions from narrative textual content. Deep colours are balanced by white margins. These parts are essential when coping with a high-content topic like gull identification. It’s very straightforward to be overwhelmed by all of the element. The graphic group and design helps our mind type all of it out, determine what we need to learn and when, and allows us to take psychological breaks to easily take pleasure in the great thing about the pictures.

Quiz Time!

In The Shorebird Information custom, Gulls Simplified makes use of quizzes to each immediate us to review more durable and to strengthen the knowledge within the species accounts (the authors say it’s principally the latter, however don’t underestimate the aggressive spirit of wanna-be larophiles). There are literally two forms of quizzes–these within the formal Quiz and Review behind the e-book, and quizzes scattered via the Introduction and a few of the species accounts, whose solutions are given in a separate back-of-the-book part.

The quiz pictures are robust. I might usually not try and determine these gulls until I had learn this e-book once more, however within the curiosity of excellent reviewing I glanced on the solutions. They’re nice; the solutions completely undergo the steps for every identification when it comes to form, measurement, construction, bringing in prospects of solar bleaching and leucistism. And, apparently, few of those solutions make the most of esoteric plumage options, and once they do, it’s to slender down or affirm an identification already labored out utilizing the extra holistic standards. In different phrases, Dunne and Karlson present that their system works. Thirty-five occasions.

Further Again-of-the-Book Sections

The Bibliography is extraordinarily temporary, citing 5 books (two used as sources for the maps and measurements, three cited as sources for additional info on hybrids, one by a co-author) and one authorities article (a North Dakota article on Franklin’s Gull). I feel the authors might have finished higher; there’s a number of clean area there. Photographer credit record the 19 photographers whose photographs (a bit of over 80 in response to my rely) complement Karlson’s. The Index, just like the Bibliography, gives minimal info, itemizing widespread and scientific names of gulls and main subspecies within the Species Accounts, however no hybrids and no ideas.


Gulls Simplified is an fascinating ebook. This ‘holistic’ strategy to gull identification might be heresy to the larophiles who hang around at their native landfills or who take part within the Gull Frolic in Chicago in February or who talk about identification on the North American Gulls Fb group (over eight,000 members). However, I feel the birding world is large enough to accommodate multiple method to determine the members of this notorious household. Gulls Simplified is a wonderful information for intermediate birders and has sufficient depth to be of curiosity to superior birders too. It might be intimidating to starting birders, even with its “simplified” strategy. However then once more, in relation to gulls, many people are starting birders.

Postscript: American Birding Podcast

I had the pleasure of speaking to Nate Swick of the American Birding Affiliation as soon as once more about one of the best birding books of the yr. We speak about Gulls Simplified, Birds of Central America: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, The Feather Thief, and a few books I’ve not had an opportunity to evaluation but, like Daniel Lewis’s Belonging on an Island: Birds, Extinction, and Evolution in Hawai‘i  and Birds of Nicaragua: A Field Guide. I hope you’ll pay attention to our dialog, numerous good present concepts right here, for buddies and your self!


* A larophile is a gull fanatic, taken from the genus identify Larus and/or the household identify Laridae. Birders who shrug their shoulders and refuse to have any a part of gull discussions are, in fact, larophobes.

** To be truthful, 10,000 Birds has revealed quite a few articles about gulls, together with Jochen’s mini-series on Europe’s giant white-headed gulls, Clare’s celebration of Broome’s Silver Gulls, and Corey’s taxonomic musings on the Kumlien’s Gull. However, these usually are not hard-core identification articles.

Gulls Simplified: A Comparative Strategy to Identification
by Pete Dunne and Kevin T. Karlson
Princeton Univ. Press, 2018
Paperback, 208 pp., 7 half x 9 1/2, 330 colour illus.
ISBN-10: 0691156948; ISBN-13: 978-0691156941; E-book 9780691185521
$24.95 (much less from the standard suspects); Kindle version $14.72

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