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 outer most 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’. It prefers 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.
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.
A graceful tern, easily distinguishable in their black summer plumage, which they're named after.