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© Copyright: Images: Jari Peltomäki. Recording: Jan-Erik Bruun. All rights reserved.

Little Gull

Hydrocoloeus minutus

  • Latin synonym: Larus minutus
  • Family: Gulls – Laridae
  • Appearance: A small, slender gull. Flies with rapid wingbeats and agile movements, reminiscent of terns. Wingtips rounded, wings black underneath but pale grey on top.
  • Size: Length 24–28 cm, wingspan 62–69 cm, weight 105–180 g.
  • Nest: On a floating pile of reeds, may use nests abandoned by waterbirds. Nest material may include any available dried out fragments of aquatic vegetation.
  • Breeding: 1–5 (average 3) eggs laid in May, incubated by both parents for 20 days. Fledglings learn to fly within about 21–24 days.
  • Distribution: Breeds in small colonies by nutrient-rich lakes, ponds and sea bays, as far north as southern parts of Lapland. Finnish population estimated at 10,000–13,000 pairs.
  • Migration: Winters in coastal marine waters of the North Sea, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Leaves Finland July–September and returns in May.
  • Diet: feeds on insects more than any other gull, catching them in flight or picking them off the water surface.
  • Calls: A repetitive, nasal “kyek”, reminiscent of call of Jackdaw.
  • Endangerment. Least concern, protected in Finland. European red list status Near threatened, globally Least concern.

Little Gulls look quite like Black-headed Gulls, but they are smaller, more slender, and have more rounded wings. Their heads are truly black down to their necks. Their round-tipped wings are pale grey above, and black beneath with the exception of a white band around the trailing edge. The leading edges of their primary wing feathers lack the white wedge-shaped marking visible on Black-headed Gulls. Like Black-headed Gulls, they lose their dark head colouring in their winter plumage and only have a small dark patch behind each eye. But their wings remain distinctively dark underneath.

Juvenile Little Gulls resemble immature Black-headed Gulls, but their primary wing feathers have no white leading edge or dark streak along the trailing edge (though their secondary wing feathers have indistinct brownish edges).

Little Gulls’ legs are bright red in summer and duller reddish in winter. Their beaks are reddish brown in summer but black in winter. They have dark irises, and narrow red rings around their eyes.

Other species from the same family

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