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.
Mew Gull, Sea Mew, Short-billed Gull
40cm to 42cm
110cm to 130cm
300g to 480g
The common gull is a medium sized gull with a round head and small bill. Adult summer (breeding) plumage is predominantly grey above with white underparts. The body, head and tail is white and the mantle, the area immediately below the nape of the neck, is grey. The upper wing area is grey with the tips of the primary feathers coloured black. There is a large circular white spot partially superimposed over the black area. The trailing edge of the upper wings are marked with a narrow white stripe. Upper tail is white and the underwings are white tipped black. The short bill is a greenish yellow as are the legs and webbed feet. The iris is dark with a red orbital ring which is not apparent in winter plumage. Non breeding adults have grey brown markings over a white head extending to the top of the nape. Males and females are similar in appearance with the male being slightly larger than the female. Juvenile birds are mainly a grey brown colour with light brown upper wings and dark brown primaries. The upper tail is grey with a black band across the trailing edge. The bill is grey with a black tip and the legs vary from buff to pale pink.
Common Gull in winter plumage
The common gull attracts a number of differing assertions from ornithologists and scientific bodies where it’s nomenclature allegedly derives from its abundance in numbers, to those who opine that the overwintering of birds inland, on common ground, gives rise to its title. Further, whilst most authorities count the North American variant as a subspecies (Larus canus brachyrhynchus) others see it as an independent and separate species.
A pair of juvenile Common Gulls
The common gull’s call is a high pitched, loud ‘keeeee – ya’ or ‘keeee -ya – ya -ya’.
Common Gull call
Uku Paal, XC651348. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/651348.
Common Gull in flight
Feeding from water or on the ground the bird lives on a diet of molluscs, fish, worms, carrion and insects which is often supplemented by scraps scavenged from refuse tips.
Common Gull feeding
The breeding range of the common gull encompasses much of the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere including Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean, Iceland, the United Kingdom and eastwards across northern Europe into Russia and across Siberia to the Kamchatka Peninsula. Breeding populations are also found in Turkey, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. In North America they breed across Alaska and eastwards into the Canadian provinces of Yukon, North West Territories, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Eurasian breeding colonies that do migrate south for the winter head for the Baltic Sea, United Kingdom, North Africa, the western Mediterranean, Black Sea, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Korea, southern China and Japan. North American colonies winter across the Pacific coast from Alaska south to Central California. Isolated pockets of common gulls can also be found inland within North America with Eurasian variants appearing on the Atlantic Coast of the U.S.
Common Gull stood on a post
During the breeding season, in the main, common gulls choose to inhabit areas close to water. In particular, sea coasts, offshore islands, beaches, cliffs, wetlands, estuaries, marshes, freshwater lakes and rivers etc. Some birds will however, venture further inland to moors, heaths and even wooded areas. During winter months much of the Eurasian population will move inland and occupy arable and grassland whilst also selecting urban and suburban areas, particularly around sewage farms and refuse tips. North American birds in general, remain close to the coast. Dependent upon region, common gulls often congregate in large flocks that can reach several thousand and are frequently seen roosting on beaches and sandbars. Although nests are usually built on the ground close to water, common gulls will also nest in trees and are the only white headed gull to do so. In appearance they are easy to confuse with a Herring Gull although the latter is larger and much heavier.
Adult and juvenile Common Gull next to one another
The breeding season across the range is from late April through to July dependent upon geographical location and climatic conditions (breaking up of winter ice etc). Nests are usually constructed by the female with little help from the male and are either a shallow cup shape built on a rock or marshy ground, often amongst thick vegetation, or a simple platform high in a tree. Birds will often nest in colonies although some pairs will nest alone. One brood of two or three pale brown eggs, marked with dark brown splodges, are laid annually and incubated by both parents for between twenty four to twenty six days. Fledging occurs from four to five weeks after hatching.
Common Gull chick
Average life expectancy for a common gull is up to ten years although examples of those surviving twice that period have been recorded.
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.
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.
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.
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