Gull ID in Muskegon, MI - Ross's Gull?

(Grand Rapids, Michigan)

Q: Taking the given information as accurate (which I absolutely true to my knowledge and my four other siblings which saw this bird), please give me your opinion.

- Seen at Pere Marquette Park (beach), Muskegon, MI, at 10:00 AM on Jan. 18, 2010, flying at head level along the shoreline northbound. Seen for about 15 seconds, not shy, flew about 10 feet from us (in red winter coats) so that we could hear the wingbeats. We were inexperienced birders, and we didn't take note of the tail shape or bill color.
- Light overall, with very light gray under-wings, no under-wing pattern was observed because we didn't know about defining gull ID characteristics at the time. No sharp contrasts, and no freckles or streaking, no black anywhere.
- Size between Little Gull and Ring-billed. I have seen hundreds of Little Gulls in winter plumage at Turkey Point, ON, and am confident that this was absolutely NOT a Little Gull.
- Flight somewhat buoyant and not fast, almost like a Little Gull.

Now that I have obtained more gull experience, and because the observers still remember the gull very accurately, I thought an ID might be possible. I have no photos. I realize Ross's Gull is an extremely rare species (it would be the first Michigan record). I look forward to your response, and thank you very much.

Reply: From your description, especially the details about the collar and size, I cannot think of anything else this gull to be but a Ross's Gull. The only other gull that it can be confused with is a Little Gull which you have seen plenty of and are confident that it is not. Of course during the time of the year that you saw the gull (January), the Ross's gull would be in its winter plumage and the collar would not be distinct - but as you said, it was faded. The Little Gull would have a dark cap in the winter.

Video of Ross's Gull in Winter Plumage

It would indeed be a rare sighting, but not impossible since Ross's Gulls have been sighted in and around the great lakes before. However, without a photo or other experienced birder's confirmation of the sighting at the time, we can never be 100% sure.

Your recorded details are impressive, especially since you were not experienced birders and it was nearly a year ago that you made this observation.

Here is some very good video of Ross's Gull as well as photos.

Ross's Gull (Rhodostethia rosea) - Life History and Photos

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