Named in honour of the French naturalist and ornithologist, Jean Victor Audouin (1797 – 1841) the Audouin’s gull is one of the world’s rarest and is limited in the main to regions within and surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
The adult male Audouin’s gull is predominantly white overall, with a very pale grey mantle and upper wing. The outermost primary flight feathers are coloured black, as are small areas of the primary coverts extending almost to the alula.
The tips of the black primary feathers are spotted white. The bird has a long white face and sloping forehead with a prominent dark crimson hooked bill, which is tipped with a dark yellow.
Immediately behind this yellow colouring is a black band which circles both the upper and lower mandible. The eye is very dark, almost black and surrounded by a deep red thin orbital ring. The legs are a greyish-green shade.
The adult female is similar to the male. Juveniles have a much darker grey-brown body with black brown upper wings and a black tail tinged white at its base across the uppertail coverts. The head and face is grey and the bill is black.
It takes three years until the juvenile resembles the fully grown adult with colour and patternation morphing occurring annually.
A pair of Audouin’s Gulls
Audouin’s Gulls floating on the sea
A long, low to medium-pitched nasally braying call, is used by both sexes with a ‘ga – ga – ga’ alarm call.
Audouin’s Gull call / song
Stanislas Wroza, XC471729. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/471729.
Audouin’s Gull calling
Whilst many gulls are scavengers, the Audouin’s gull tends not to be and is predominantly a fish eater, in fact its species Greek name, Ichthyaetus, translates as ‘fish eagle’.
Audouin’s Gulls prefer a diet of herrings, sardines and anchovies, which it frequently hunts and catches at night by swooping down and taking from just below the water’s surface.
They will also forage on land and have been observed taking small mammals and lizards as well as raiding olive groves.
Audouin’s Gull taking off with food
Audouin’s gulls’ breeding areas are mainly confined to the east coast of mainland Spain, the Balearics, other Mediterranean and Aegean islands, southern Turkey and Morocco’s north coast.
They may also occasionally venture into the Atlantic and breed on the Canary Islands. They normally migrate to North West Africa’s Saharan coast but will also over winter in the Aegean and Turkey.
Audouin’s Gull in flight from below
Due to its propensity for fresh fish, the Audouin’s gull does not venture inland and limits its territory to the open sea and coastal waters, choosing to roost in coastal marshes, rocky coves and sandy beaches.
The juvenile is more difficult to identify than the adult, particularly during its first year when it is not dissimilar to the European Herring Gull.
However, identification of the adult is easy due to its stubby tri-coloured bill, grey-green legs and black outer primary flight feathers tipped in white.
Audouin’s Gull in flight from above
The breeding season is from March to August, during which time a simple nest is constructed in a hollow amongst rocks or vegetation, often located on small islands. Pairs will nest alone or, more commonly, in large colonies.
One clutch of 2-3 dark-spotted, cream-coloured eggs, is laid annually and incubated for up to twenty-eight days. Fledging takes place some eight weeks later.
Juvenile Audouin’s Gull
Ringed birds have been recorded as attaining the age of twenty one years.
Family:Gulls and terns
48cm to 52cm
125cm to 138cm
Until fairly recently yellow-legged gulls were considered a subspecies of the caspian gull or the herring gull. In 2007, the British Ornithologists’ Union first listed it as a distinct species with key differences in appearance and distribution range from similar-looking gulls.
Sandwich terns are migratory seabirds that breed at large nesting colonies along the warm-water coasts of Europe, parts of the south-eastern United States, the Caribbean and as far south as Patagonia in South America. Their distinctive yellow-tipped bill and shaggy black crest make them relatively unmistakable alongside similar seabird species.
Roseate terns have a wide distribution range, and are found on six continents around the world. However, numbers have declined dramatically in some regions, leading to conservation concerns over the long-term survival of the species.
Despite its name, the Mediterranean gull is not limited to coastal waters of southern Europe, and is widespread on the Atlantic and Black Sea coasts, as well as in coastal regions and inland reservoirs of England and Wales.
A tiny, but feisty, seabird, the little tern undertakes epic annual migrations of up to 10,000 km (6,000 miles) between breeding grounds along the UK coast to winter territories in West Africa. Further east, little tern populations complete similar journeys from China and Japan to Australia each year.
Little gulls are small, tern-sized seabirds that breed mainly in Central Asia, but are occasionally reported as vagrant breeders in North America and may be seen in passage around coastal areas of the UK, and rarely reach the United States and Canada.
Lesser Black-Backed Gull
The Lesser Black-backed Gull is one of many attractive ‘white-headed-gulls’ from the Larus genus. Common in the UK throughout the year, these migratory seabirds also visit the eastern half of the United States each winter.
The Kittiwake is an attractive, short-legged gull that breeds on rocky cliffs along the UK’s coastline. These birds disperse each winter to forage out over the open ocean.
Iceland Gulls breed exclusively along the rocky coastlines of north-east Canada to Greenland. Winter migration south occurs, with temporary visitors arriving along both Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States, and to coastal areas across north-western Europe.
A familiar bird of the coast, the bold and long-lived Herring Gull is a fascinating seabird in decline.
Great Black-Backed Gull
The Great Black-backed Gull is the world’s largest gull and one formidable seabird. This impressive species lives and breeds along Northern Hemisphere shores on both sides of the Atlantic.
A large, pale gull species, the Glaucous gull breeds across the Arctic, where it hunts for fish, birds and small mammals and scavenges for carrion. Known for their intolerance of sharing a food source with other birds, Glaucous gulls can be physically aggressive as well as highly vocal when approached.
Terns are water birds from the family Sternidae and are expert fish catchers. There are generally considered to be forty five separate species of terns worldwide. Generally smaller than gulls but with long tails, thin bodies and short legs, they are long distance migrants.
There are four sub-species of the common gull with the European variant being the nominate. The other three are the Russian, Kamchatka and American, which are all predominantly confined to the geographical region attributed by their name. There are subtle differences in plumage and overall size of bird between sub-species.
The title of Black-headed Gull is rather a misnomer for this bird as its head is not black but a dark brown colour and only in adult birds during the breeding season. It is not present during the winter months or in other plumages. Unlike many gulls it is not restricted to coastal regions and is widespread inland in both rural and urban areas.
The Black Tern is a small, graceful seabird that nests far from the ocean. These birds switch between radically different habitats in the breeding and non-breeding seasons, but habitat loss inland has caused their numbers to plummet since the mid-1900s.
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