BLACK-HEADED GULL

BLACK-HEADED GULL (formerly Larus ridibundus, now: Chroicocephalus ridibundus))

The Black-headed gull is a small ‘Old World’ gull at about 40 cm (16 in.) long.

The head of this gull is actually dark brown, not black, in the summer for the adult (hence the new Latin name which means, ‘black head’). The upper parts are grey in the adult with black at the wing tips, and the under parts including the tail are white. The bill and legs are red to dark red. Sexes are similar. Juveniles have light brown upper parts instead of light grey, and a dark band at the tip of the tail.

The eggs of this species are eaten as a delicacy in parts of Europe.

The Latin word in its name, ‘ridibundus’, means ‘laughing’ (think of ‘ridiculous’), in reference to its call. To make things more complicated however, there is also another species of small gull with a black head, called the Laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla), but that one is a New World species. Gulls have many plumages, from juveniles to breeding or non breeding adults (photo below), so their identification can be challenging.

The black-headed gull is omnivorous and, as with many species of its family, an opportunistic feeder, i.e. will also feed on carrion. It can be noisy in colonies, and its habitat is coastal and inland, so it’s not a true ‘seagull’.

Although the breeding range of the black-headed gull encompasses Europe, Japan, and eastern coastal Canada and USA, it is not known to breed on PEI. Its sightings on the island range from occasional to rare to uncommon, depending on the seasons and the years.

Black-headed Gull in breeding plumage - near Antwerp Zoo, Belgium - Mar. 1, 2008 - © Hans Hillewaert
Black-headed Gull in breeding plumage – near Antwerp Zoo, Belgium – Mar. 1, 2008 – © Hans Hillewaert
Black-headed gulls have no black heads in the winter, which makes them harder to identify. Ueno Park, Shinobazu Pond, Tokyo, Japan.
Black-headed gulls have no black heads in the winter, which makes them harder to identify. Ueno Park, Shinobazu Pond, Tokyo, Japan.

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