Little Gull

Hydrocoloeus minutus

25-27cm

Appearance

This is the smallest gull found in the region; it has red legs and a dark, small bill. The sexes are similar but the plumage varies seasonally. During spring and summer, adults have a grey back, blunt, pale grey upperwings which are tipped with white, and a distinctive black hood. When flying, the underwings are charcoal-black and there's a white trailing edge. The plumage of the winter adult is quite similar but the dark hood is absent, replaced by dark marks around the eye and back of the head. Juveniles are mostly white with brownish-black smudges on the top of the head, around the mantle, ears and nape; they have a dark tail band and a 'W' shaped marking on the upperwings and back. Birds in their first-winter are similar but they are grey, though the wings still have a dark bar. Complete adult plumage is developed over two years of moulting.

Habitat

Prefers marine coasts and estuaries, but it may also venture inland to lakes and reservoirs. Breeding territory is freshwater marshes, and occasionally by the ocean close to abundant vegetation.

Character

Has rapid wingbeats and what can appear as a rather random, zippy flight pattern; these things make it appear rather like a tern. Often feeds while in flight by getting close to the water and scooping prey from its surface.

Food

Eats dragonflies, mayflies, midges and their larvae, water bugs like water boatmen, ants and beetles, spiders, worms and fish.

Breeding

Not a breeding bird in the region. Female lays 2-3 eggs from May to early June, and both parents incubate for 23-25 days. Both adults tend to the young who can fly after about 21-24 days.

Population

A passage migrant and a winter visitor whose movements are fairly elusive. Attempts have been made to breed in the region, but there is no regular colony. Birds can number in the thousands at some sites, but annual numbers vary greatly.

Observation Tips

Strong winds may steer Little Gulls towards the coast in autumn or winter; be sure to check just above the breaking waves. The south and east coasts of England are worth a visit, as are coasts of the Irish Sea.

Voice

Usually a quiet bird, but it does have a shrill 'kyeck, kyeck, kyeck' call.
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