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.
Family:Gulls and terns
34cm to 37cm
100cm to 110cm
200g to 400g
In breeding plumage, adults have a dark brown or chocolate brown hood which extends from the crown of the head down across the cheeks and under the chin.
There is a partial white eye ring and deep red bill and legs. The back of the bird is a pale grey whilst the neck, underparts and tail are white.
The wings are mainly mid-grey in colour with the outer primary flight feathers white, edged and tipped in black. Non-breeding adults are similar but lack the brown hood revealing a white head with a dark ear spot with some birds also showing dark splashes or shading on the forehead and nape of the neck.
Juvenile birds are predominantly brown with some ‘scale’ markings on the neck, back, upper wings and tail, which is tipped black. The bill and legs are a greyish pink in colour.
Black-headed Gull in alternative plumage
A relatively vociferous bird, black-headed gulls are loud to the extreme in the breeding season, using chattering and squealing calls of ‘krrrreeeeaaar’ and shorter ‘kuk – kuk – kuk’ or ‘kekek’.
Black-headed Gull call
Susanne Kuijpers, XC652968. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/652968.
Black-headed Gull landing
A diet of fish, worms, insects and seeds keep coastal birds nourished whilst those venturing inland also dine on carrion and are adept at foraging in and around domestic refuse dumps.
Black-headed Gulls with their winter plumage
The black-headed gull is monotypic and limited to the northern hemisphere where it is widespread throughout the majority of Europe including Greenland and Iceland.
It is also found across Central Asia as far as the volcanic Kamchatka Peninsula in the far east of Russia and North-eastern China. Limited numbers are also present on the East coast of North America and Southeast Canada.
During the winter months, the majority of the species migrates to sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and the Indian sub-continent whilst small numbers remain in Southwest Europe throughout the year.
Black-headed Gull sat on the water
Black-headed gulls can be found in almost any environment within their range including but not limited to, marine and intertidal, salt flats and marshland, wetland, grassland, farmland, urban and suburban areas, freshwater reservoirs and gravel pits, refuse dumps, and sewage farms.
They are sociable birds often congregating in large flocks but also quarrelsome and noisy. They can frequently be seen in large numbers roosting on the grounds near food sources.
Juvenile Black-headed Gull
Large breeding colonies are often occupied from March each year and nests are constructed on the ground out of twigs and grass stems on top of marshy ground or vegetation.
Occasionally individual pairs will nest alone away from the colony. One brood of 1 – 3 eggs is produced annually between April to June and incubated for up to twenty-six days. The chicks fledge after thirty-five days.
Black-headed Gull nest site
Black-headed Gull nest
The life expectancy of the black-headed gull is between 10 to 15 years although specimens of over 30 years of age have been recorded.
ResidentMalta Algeria Angola Benin Burkina Faso Burundi Cameroon Chad Comoros Congo Côte D'Ivoire Egypt Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Ethiopia Gabon Gambia Ghana Guinea Kenya Lesotho Liberia Madagascar Malawi Mali Mauritania Morocco Mozambique Namibia Niger Nigeria Rwanda Sierra Leone Somalia Sudan Togo Tunisia Uganda Western Sahara Zambia Zimbabwe Central African Republic Bangladesh Bhutan Brunei Cambodia China India Indonesia Japan Laos Malaysia Myanmar Nepal Pakistan Philippines Singapore South Korea Sri Lanka Thailand Taiwan Vietnam Mexico Bermuda Argentina Bolivia Brazil Chile Colombia Ecuador Falkland Islands French Guiana Guyana Paraguay Peru South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Suriname Venezuela Antigua and Barbuda Anguilla Aruba Barbados Cayman Islands Cuba Curaçao Dominica Dominican Republic Grenada Hati Martinique Montserrat Puerto Rico Saint Barthelemy Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Trinidad and Tobago Turks and Caicos El Salvador Guatemala Honduras Nicaragua Panama
BreedingAlbania Austria Belarus Bosnia and Herzegovina Croatia Germany Hungary Kazakhstan Montenegro Netherlands Poland Portugal Russia Serbia Slovakia Slovenia Switzerland Botswana Guinea-Bissau Senegal South Africa Tanzania Afghanistan Jordon Lebanon Russia Tajikistan Turkmenistan Uzbekistan Hong Kong Canada United States of America Uruguay Armenia Azerbaijan Georgia
Non-breedingRussia South Sudan Russia Oman Qatar Saudi Arabia Yemen British Virgin Islands Guadeloupe US Virgin Islands Belize Costa Rica Micronesia
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.
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 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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