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Mediterranean Gull - BirdForum Opus

Photo © by rimmer
Scarborough, Yorkshire
Ichthyaetus melanocephalus

Larus melanocephalus


Length 36–38 cm (14¼-15 in), wingspan 92–105 cm, weight 215–350 g
Breeding adult

  • Red bill with variable yellow and black marks on tip
  • Full black head
  • Broken white eye-ring
  • Pale grey mantle
  • Pure white primaries
Adult winter plumage in flight
Photo © by Tav94
Firestone Bay, Plymouth, Devon; 19 November 2006

Winter adult

  • As breeding adult, but head white with a blackish bar through the eye; bill red with subterminal black band.

Second year

  • As breeding adult, but black bars near the tips of the outer 5 primaries; legs red-brown; bill red with subterminal black band.

First year

  • Juvenile scaly grey-brown above
  • First-winter with pale grey mantle, black terminal tail band, and patterned wing with blackish secondaries and outer primaries contrasting with pale grey inner primaries and secondary coverts. Bill blackish with dull pinkish base; legs dark brown to blackish.

Similar Species

Black-headed Gull is superficially similar at first glance, but the head is dark chocolate-brown rather than black, and the wings have a very different pattern of black and white on the primaries. Relict Gull resembles second-summer Mediterranean Gull in having black marks on the primary tips in adults as well as immatures, but no overlap in distribution is known. Juvenile and first-winters somewhat similar to the same ages of Common Gull but paler, with a whiter underwing, and a white head with dark eye patch.


Adult moulting out of summer plumage
Photo © by mugil
Strunjan, Slovenia; July 2003

Europe, especially south and central Europe, wintering to north Africa. As a breeding bird almost confined to Europe where breeds in large colonies mainly in the south-east, and in central Turkey. The main colonies (over 300,000 pairs in total) are on the northern Black Sea coasts, chiefly in the Dobruja area of Romania, around the Crimea, and at freshwater lakes in southern Russia, with smaller colonies also in northern Greece and central Anatolia.

The species has undergone a dramatic range expansion in recent decades, breeding first in south-east Hungary in 1940, and reaching France in the Camargue (c.1,500 pairs in 2000), northeast Italy and more recently Belgium (1,300 pairs in 2012), the Netherlands (2,000 pairs in 2012), Germany (230 pairs in 2004) and elsewhere, has recently started breeding in Denmark (15-20 pairs), Poland (25-30 pairs), and Ireland (under five pairs). In Britain, it first bred in 1968 and now breeds widely in England, with around 90 pairs in 2000 increasing to over 1,000 pairs by 2012, the majority on the south and east coasts. The first breeding attempts for Northern Ireland took place in 1996, rising to six pairs in 2012, but breeding is still only sporadic in Wales and Scotland.

With the population increasing and range expanding, breeding is likely to become regular in more areas. Most birds winter in the Mediterranean, where found virtually throughout, largest numbers on coasts of southern France and Spain, Italy, Tunisia and the Nile Delta. Also passes through Straits of Gibraltar to winter off Portugal and north to Britain and also south to Mauritania. Increasingly birds are remaining near to summering areas, especially in northwest Europe.

Vagrant to Finland and Norway, the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands, and in Africa south to Senegal on the west coast and Kenya on the east coast.


This is a monotypic species[1].

Along with other species of Ichthyaetus, it was formerly included in genus Larus. In the past, Relict Gull was included in Mediterranean Gull as a subspecies.


Breeds on estuarine saltmarshes, flooded fields and sparsely vegetated islands, often in association with Black-headed Gulls or terns.

After breeding most are coastal, although some feed on grasslands some distance inland




Click on photo for larger image


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2016. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2016, with updates to August 2016. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Collins Field Guide 5th Edition
  3. Thread discussing the identification of Mediterranean Gull.[1]

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