Great Plains Natural Science Society


The Prairie Naturalist

Date of this Version


Document Type



The Prairie Naturalist • 51(1): June 2019, pp 39-40


US gov't


The title of Pete Dunne and Kevin Karlson’s new book, Gulls Simplified, may seem like an oxymoron to many birders. Gulls are, after all, one of the most vexing groups of North American birds due to their myriad identification challenges, and many seasoned birders simply “don’t do gulls.” Indeed, Dunne, in the first line of the Introduction (page 13), writes, “Ask any bird-watcher to name the bird group that is most intimidating, and to a man, woman, and tour leader they often shout: GULLS!” The genesis of the book, and the authors’ approach to identification within, arises from the notion that gull identification has long been treated like most of the other difficult bird groups—focusing mostly on (sometimes subtle) details of plumage, a revolutionary method pioneered in 1934 by Roger Tory Peterson in his Field Guide to the Birds. For many groups of birds, this method has worked well. However, most gulls take years to mature, and the different plumages a bird wears from hatching to maturity lend enormous complexity to the identification of individual gulls if identifications are based primarily on plumage. In lieu of the Peterson method, the authors of Gulls Simplified propose a holistic approach to gull identification—focusing on characteristics of size, body shape, and structure, and supplementing that with plumage details. They also encourage the use of species distributions as a means of simplifying the identification process, for knowing which species should occur in an area tends to drastically reduce the number of possible species to choose from.