Gull results... Wednesday 4th August 2010

So, what was it that made us think that the gull seen on Monday may be something other than a Herring Gull?

Firstly, both Paul and myself struggle quite a bit with identifying large immature gulls and we tend only to notice when one looks distinctly different to the rest we have seen, as this bird seemed to.
It doesn’t seem to matter how many articles and field guides I read, the subject of immature gull identification seems extremely complicated and variable and the birds seen in the field never quite fit the descriptions in the books.
Many far more adept birders have suggested that I purchase the Helm Guide to Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America but, after borrowing a copy, I realised that I still couldn’t get my head around all the variations, ages, etc.

Back to the bird in question - it did seem to have an unusually white head and breast. The legs looked longer than usual, especially the tibia length and, at some angles, the breast looked heavy.
The bill appeared all-black, but on closer inspection of the photographs, there was a small trace of pink at the base. There was a hint of grey feathering on the upperparts suggested a second-year bird but the plumage seemed quite tatty, abraded and faded so it was difficult to be certain that this was the case. The dark eye and virtually all-black bill suggested to me that it was more likely to be a first-winter bird.

I thought it bore a slight resemblance to a bird on one website (click here), which is said to be a typical first calender-year Yellow-legged Gull, but maybe I'm missing something.

The majority of comments and emails that I have now received (many thanks for those) are of the opinion that this is a Herring Gull (although opinions seem divided as to its age, with 1st-winter, 1st-summer, and 2nd-winter all being suggested).
Others have suggested Caspian, Yellow-legged and Great Black-backed as likely candidates. Unfortunately, nobody has given any reasons for their identifications, but it is interesting to find that there is such a variation in opinions, which leads us to believe that we are not the only ones struggling with sub-adult gulls.

Your opinions were as follows: five thought it to be a Herring Gull (of varying age), two thought is was a Yellow-legged Gull and there was one vote each for Caspian and Great Black-backed.
Also an email from an one birder who asked if I had considered Armenian Gull - if only!

As for us, we’re still undecided, but it must surely be either a Herring or a Yellow-legged - or is it?


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