The Varied Diet of Bonaparte’s Gulls

I was able to observe and photograph the feeding behavior of Bonaparte’s Gulls on a winter day along the Arkansas River in Oklahoma. These small yet mighty gulls displayed their versatile appetites.

Bonaparte's Gull Fishing
A Bonaparte’s Gull with a fish in its beak on the Arkansas River (Larger Image)

Despite their delicate appearance, Bonaparte’s Gulls are aggressive and opportunistic foragers. At the river in January, they plunged into the icy water to snatch small fish that had gathered near the dam. In the winter cold, insect prey was scarce, so the gulls focused on the abundant baitfish drawn to the dam. I only observed them catching fish during my visit, though in warmer months they exhibit more varied feeding habits.

Bonaparte’s Gulls consume a diverse buffet including insects, worms, leeches, mollusks, amphibians, reptiles, rodents, berries, seeds, and even carrion. Their willingness to eat almost anything makes them highly adaptable feeders.

During winter, icy conditions can restrict access to their usual prey. Bonaparte’s Gulls adapt by seeking out whatever food sources are available. They boldly steal fish and other morsels from larger gulls.

These birds are well designed for catching prey on the wing. Their slender, pointed bills are effective at grasping slippery meals. Their relatively large wings provide aerobatic agility to swoop and dive.

The abundance of fish drawn to the Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam, offered an ideal winter dining spot for Bonaparte’s Gulls migrating through Oklahoma. Watching them feed revealed fascinating insights into their resourceful, varied diets. Their flexibility as feeders enables their widespread range across North America.

Image Information:

  • Date: 01/02/11
  • Time: 09:53 AM
  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D Mark III
  • Lens: Canon 500mm F4
  • ISO: 500
  • Aperture: 7.1
  • Shutter: 1/2500
  • Exp. Comp.: 0
  • Lens (mm): 500 (Fixed)
  • Program Mode: Aperture Priority