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Well, we waited until the 34th photo quiz to introduce our first gull. And given the number of correct responses, apparently we chose one that wasn't exceptionally difficult.
When dealing with a gull, the first thing to do is to age it. When taken in concert, the extensively brownish colored underwing, dirty underparts, patterned undertail coverts, black tail band and uniformly black bill suggest that we are dealing with a first-cycle bird. Perhaps some birds just entering their second cycle-birds could retain this all dark bill and have a similar plumage (but at least from this angle we see no hint of second-cycle feathers, indeed it appears as thought the bird may still be entirely in juvenal plumage).
At this point, size and structure become important clues. Since there are no birds for comparison, it's hard to judge for certain, but the bird seems large. Less subjective, is the large bill that expands at the gonys. This may call to mind a very large Herring Gull, Western Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, and Kelp Gull.
The other striking feature about this individual is the distal tail band, which is narrow compared to what one would expect with North American Herring Gulls, Western Gull and Kelp Gull. This pattern is typical of what one would expect on a first-cycle Great Black-backed Gull. The fairly white head and underparts with relatively sparse mottling and streaking are also typical of Great Black-backed Gull.
This first-cycle Great Black-backed Gull was photographed by the author at Massachusetts in late December 2005.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the January Bird Photo Quiz—Great Black-backed Gull:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Chris Wood.