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a family of birds of the order Charadriiformes. The body length ranges from 20 cm (least tern [Sterna albifrons])to 76 cm (glaucous gull [Larus hyperboreus]). Some species have a rather thin, straight, pointed bill, while other species have a more powerful, slightly decurved bill, with a prominence on the mandible. The bill is often brightly colored. The long and pointed wings are adapted for prolonged flight over water; some species can soar and glide. The legs are short or of moderate length; the feet are webbed, sometimes deeply lobed. The Laridae are good swimmers; they sometimes dive after their prey by simply plunging into the water. The plumage is thick and waterproof. It is alike in males and females but differs considerably depending on the season and the bird’s age. The adult plumage is acquired in the third to fourth year of life. White, gray, and black predominate in the coloration.
All the Laridae are closely tied to the water, inhabiting the shores of oceans, seas, rivers, and open and overgrown lakes. They are predominantly gregarious birds, living in flocks. They nest in colonies and on sandbars, cliffs, broken reeds, and floating plants; some nest in trees, shrubs, and even burrows. The clutch contains one to four solid-colored or spotted eggs. Both the male and female incubate the eggs and feed the young, which are covered with a thick down. The young leave the nest very soon after hatching but remain close to it; the parents feed them until they begin to fly.
The Laridae are distributed all over the world. Many species migrate, but some winter near their nesting sites in ice-free bodies of water, sometimes very far north; some make long migratory flights. The diet includes fish, marine and freshwater invertebrates, carrion, and waste products of the fishing industry. Some species are beneficial to man, for they fly over fields and catch rodents and insects; other species are harmful, since they kill fish or destroy the nests and kill the young of commercially useful birds, such as eiders and other ducks.
The family comprises 82 species, grouped into two subfamilies: Sterninae (terns) and Larinae (gulls). Of the latter, 20 species nest in the USSR, including the ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea), Ross’s gull (Rhodostethia rosea), the fork-tailed, or Sabine’s, gull (Xema sabini), the herring gull (Larus argentatus), the short-billed, or mew, gull (Larus canus), the black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus), the Mediterranean gull (Larus melanocephalus), the lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus), and the kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla). (See alsoTERN.)
REFERENCEPtitsy Sovetskogo Soiuza, vol. 3. Edited by G. P. Dement’ev and N. A. Gladkov. Moscow, 1951.
A. I. IVANOV