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.
Mediterranean Gull first winter plumage
Mediterranean Gull second winter plummage
Mediterranean Gull in-flight
Family:Gulls and terns
36cm to 38cm
92cm to 100cm
230g to 280g
Mediterranean gulls are more distinctive and easy to identify during the breeding season than during the winter, due to their bold black head and neck, white eye rings and bright red-orange beak and legs. Their upper wings are very pale grey, while their upper back, flanks, breast and belly are white.
Males and females are alike, and during the non-breeding season, they moult into a less remarkable plumage, appearing from a distance to be entirely white, although at closer range, dark shadowy streaks are visible on the face, particularly around the eyes. The beak becomes a less vibrant shade of dull orange.
Juvenile Mediterranean gulls are distinctly different from adults, and are mottled with brownish grey and white markings on their wings, a paler whitish head and belly and greyish legs and bill. They do not acquire their full adult plumage until their second winter, when they are almost indistinguishable from mature birds, although some darker wing markings persist.
Adult Mediterranean Gull summer plumage
Juvenile Mediterranean Gull
Although similar in appearance to the black-headed gull, Mediterranean gulls are slightly larger, more closely comparable to the common gull, although the Mediterranean gull is stockier. Males and females are the same size, although juveniles are initially substantially larger until they acquire their adult plumage.
Adult Mediterranean Gull moulting to winter plumage
Mediterranean gulls are not the most vocal of gull species, and their calls are not particularly remarkable or noteworthy. The most commonly heard call is a whining "yee-ah" or "ee-ar" cry, with a rising and falling pitch, heard in flight or when foraging.
Mediterranean Gull calling
The main natural diet of Mediterranean gulls includes aquatic insects, small fish, beetles, worms and some small rodents.
Carrion, offal and waste scraps are also eaten in more densely populated coastal regions, and occasional reports of large flocks of foraging Mediterranean gulls at pig farms and sewage works have been recorded.
Until they are able to fend for themselves, young Mediterranean gulls depend on being fed regurgitated food by their parents, so their diet is identical to whatever the adult birds have found when foraging, for example small fish, insects and larvae and worms, crustaceans and molluscs.
Mediterranean Gull catching small fish
Breeding habitats popular with Mediterranean gulls include coasts, estuaries, inland lakes and reservoirs, marshes, fields, grasslands and fields. Limited vegetation is required, and the species is well adapted to different environments, including urban landscapes as well as coastal lagoons and seashores.
In winter, inland habitats become more commonly used, with farmland, sewage works and landfill sites also frequently attracting large flocks of mixed gull species.
While breeding was once mainly limited to coastal regions around the Black Sea, the species has spread into parts of Central Asia, and throughout western and northern Europe, from southern England in the west, to the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany in the north, and along the coasts of France, Italy, Greece and Turkey in the south.
Winters are spent mainly along Mediterranean coasts, and further across north-western Europe, and north-western Africa, although a substantial number of Mediterranean gulls remain in their Black Sea breeding grounds all year round.
The vast majority of Mediterranean gulls breed in Ukraine, with around 300,000 pairs recorded there. In western Europe, breeding populations are stable and increasing in Belgium, the Netherlands and France.
Group of Mediterranean Gulls on the lake
The global population of Mediterranean gulls is estimated at 300,000 to 370,000, and although they are not the most common gull species seen in the UK, sightings are not unusual, with large flocks of up to 100 birds gathering in winter on British beaches.
Until the 1950s, it was considered an extremely rare visitor, but has since become far more widespread, with 1,200 breeding pairs, and an estimated winter population of around 4,000 birds.
Although at least 1,200 breeding pairs are present in the UK all year round, particularly at coastal colonies where they nest alongside black-headed gulls, winter is by far the best season for a sighting, with flocks of up to 100 birds visiting beaches in the east of England, in particular in Hampshire, Kent and Norfolk.
Mediterranean Gull winter plumage
Around 15 years is a likely expected lifespan for a Mediterranean gull, although records of older birds exist, including one that reached 18 years and 2 months, reported in 2009.
First-time breeding is thought to be between two and three years of age.
Larger gull species are the chief predator of Mediterranean gulls and their eggs and young, in particular Caspian gulls and herring gulls.
Corvids and harriers are another threat to young Mediterranean gulls and the success of their breeding each season.
Mediterranean gulls are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, making it illegal to kill, injure or take one into captivity.
Additionally, as Schedule 1 birds under this act, it is also an offence to disturb the nests, eggs or young of Mediterranean gulls.
Mediterranean gulls have Amber status in the British Birds of Conservation Concern list, but are globally considered a species of least concern. Numbers in the UK are increasing steadily, and there are no immediate threats to habitat due to their ability to adapt easily to new surroundings.
Mediterranean Gull standing near the edge of the lake
Ground-level nests are commonly constructed by Mediterranean gulls, and these are most frequently built as part of a larger colony, with up to several hundred other pairs nearby.
Nests are shallow depressions in the ground, lined with grasses or reeds, and located in sparsely vegetated terrain, on average only around 50 to 60 cm (20 in to 25 in) from another pair’s nest.
Mediterranean gulls lay their eggs in the first two weeks of May, timed in sync with other nearby nesting pairs. Incubation takes around 23 to 26 days.
Eggs laid by Mediterranean gulls are 54 mm by 38 mm (2.1 in by 1.5 in), and are creamy-olive in colour, marked heavily with dark brown scrawls.
A typical clutch consists of 2 to 3 eggs, which are incubated by both the male and female in turn.
Mediterranean gulls form lasting pair bonds, and remain together for one or more breeding season, depending on the success of their initial brood.
A group of Mediterranean Gulls in their natural habitiat
Some degree of aggression and territorial behaviour may be shown around the immediate nest site of a Mediterranean gull pair. Pairs breed in close proximity to other Mediterranean gulls, as well as a number of different seabirds, including black-headed gulls and sandwich terns, and as the larger, more dominant species, Mediterranean gulls are often seen to show aggression to the smaller birds.
Overnight roosting spots of Mediterranean gulls include on water, including inland lakes and reservoirs.
Large flocks of gulls gather together each night outside of the breeding season, with roosts on water offering protection from the threat of predatory land mammals, such as foxes, badgers and stoats.
Mediterranean Gull in flight over the sea
Mediterranean gulls are largely migratory, with many birds that breed along the coastline of the Black Sea heading westwards, in particular to the Spanish region of Catalonia during winter.
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.
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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