Nesting in large colonies on prairie wetlands, Franklin's gulls summer across the Great Plains of North America, from central Canada to Montana, the Dakotas and Minnesota. There they feed primarily on insects and continue to do so on their migrations across America's Heartland, often hawking prey above plowed fields and ranchlands.
Those who travel across our vast plains in spring or fall are almost certain to see these gulls, which migrate in sizable flocks and often gather at favored staging areas. Their small size, buoyant flight and preference for grasslands make identification rather easy; Bonaparte's gulls, similar in size and appearance, are common visitors to the Great Lakes region but tend to migrate and winter along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. By contrast, Franklin's gulls, once called "prairie doves," migrate through the center of our Continent and generally winter south of the United States.
Non-birders and amateur naturalists may be surprised to find these gulls far from any major lakes or rivers. Of course, this reflects the common assumption that "sea gulls" are coastal birds, an image drawn from our trips to the beach. Such assumptions about our natural environment, usually based on limited experience, often prove to be incorrect.