Black-headed Gull

Chroicocephalus ridibundus

34-37cm

Appearance

This is the smallest of the more common gulls in the region. The wings are slender and pointed and the fronted edges have a white stripe. The dark chocolate-brown hood (easily mistaken for black) is evident in spring and summer, but absent at other times of year. Other features of summer adults include red bill and legs, grey back and upperwings, an inconspicuous white eye-ring and white underparts. In winter the dark hood disappears, replaced by dark flecks around the eye; plumage is otherwise similar to summer adults. Juveniles have a ginger-brown tinge to the upperparts, a dark-tipped tail, patchy dark feathering on the back and dark blotches on the head. There are rufous sections on the upperwings and back, and the wings have a dark trailing edge. In their first winter, birds carry similar head markings as a winter adult, there's a brown bar over the wings, a thin black band on the tail, and plumage is grey on the back. In the first summer, dark hood begins to form but plumage remains quite similar to a juvenile.

Habitat

Varied in its habitat, breeding may take place close to the sea in sand dunes or coastal marshes, or inland near freshwater marshes and lakes. Feeding occurs on farmland, or on beaches and rubbish tips where it scavenges for scraps.

Character

Is nimble enough to peck insects from the air, will rob other bird species of their food, and stirs up ground with its feet to disturb worms. Usually associates in flocks of its own kind and is a colonial breeder.

Food

Eats worms, beetles, swarming ants, spiders, slugs, small crabs, small fish, carrion and human scraps.

Breeding

Breeding starts in April and happens in large colonies. Both parents incubate the 2 or 3 eggs for 23-26 days. The young have a layer of down and depart the nest after approximately 10 days, but remain nearby until they can fly at about 35 days old.

Population

Breeding birds depart colonies in July and return in March and April. Most birds in Britain and Ireland stay around the British Isles, though other birds can be long-distance migrants. Approximately 140 000 pairs breed in the UK and 3900 in Ireland, while winter populations in the UK exceed 2 million individuals.

Observation Tips

Potential exists to see this bird all-year round, and it shouldn't be too much of a challenge given their commonality. Its habitats are varied, but it is unlikely to be in woodland or in mountain ranges.

Voice

Quite a vocal bird, often making a loud 'kaurrr'.
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