|Seagull or Gulls|
Gulls are birds in the family Laridae. They are most closely related to the terns (family Sternidae) and only distantly related to auks, and skimmers, and more distantly to the waders. Most gulls belong to the large genus Larus.
They are typically medium to large birds, usually grey or white, often with black markings on the head or wings. They have stout, longish bills, and webbed feet. Gull species range in size from the Little Gull, at 120 g (4.2 oz) and 29 cm (11.5 inches), to the Great Black-backed Gull, at 1.75 kg (3.8 lbs) and 76 cm (30 inches).
Most gulls, particularly Larus species, are ground nesting carnivores, which will take live food or scavenge opportunistically. The live food often includes crabs and small fish. Apart from the kittiwakes, gulls are typically coastal or inland species, rarely venturing far out to sea. The large species take up to four years to attain full adult plumage, but two years is typical for small gulls.
Gulls - the larger species in particular - are resourceful and highly-intelligent birds, demonstrating complex methods of communication and a highly-developed social structure - for example many gull colonies display mobbing behavior, attacking and harassing would-be predators and other intruders. In addition, certain species (e.g. the Herring Gull) have exhibited tool use behavior. Many species of gull have learned to co-exist successfully with man and have thrived in human habitats. Others rely on kleptoparasitism to get their food.
Two terms are in common usage among gull enthusiasts for sub groupings of the gulls:
Hybridization between species of gull occurs quite frequently, although to varying degrees depending on the species involved (see Hybridisation in gulls). The taxonomy of the large white-headed gulls is particularly complicated.
In common usage, members of various gull species are often referred to as sea gulls or seagulls. This name is used by the layman to refer to a common local species or all gulls in general, and has no fixed taxonomic meaning.
The American Ornithologists' Union combines Sternidae, Stercorariidae, and Rhynchopidae as subfamilies in the family Laridae, but recent research (Paton et al., 2003; Thomas et al., 2004; Paton & Baker, 2006) indicates that this is incorrect.
The Laridae are known from fossil evidence since the Early Oligocene, some 30-33 mya. A fossil gull from the Late Miocene of Cherry County, USA is placed in the prehistoric genus Gaviota; apart from this and the undescribed Early Oligocene fossil, all prehistoric species are at least tentatively assigned to the modern genus Larus, q.v.
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