Audouin’s gull (Larus audouinii)

French: Goéland d'Audouin
GenusLarus (1)
SizeLength: 50 cm (2)

Audouin’s gull is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (3). It is also listed on Appendix II of the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (4), Annex I of the EU Birds Directive (5), and Annex 2 of the African-Eurasian Migratory Water Bird Agreement (6). It is classified as endangered on the Greek Red Book of Threatened Vertebrates (2).

With typical gull colouring of black, white and grey, Audouin’s gull’s most distinctive features are its scarlet red bill and dark eye. The head and body are white, the wings are grey, and the tail is black. In flight black wedges are revealed on the forewing, aiding identification. This gull species looks similar to the yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis), but greyish-black legs distinguish Audouin’s gull. Juveniles have a brown head that fades to white with age (7).

The only gull that is limited to the Mediterranean (2), Audouin’s gull breeds mainly in Spain, Algeria, Greece and Italy. It has less significant breeding colonies in France, Cyprus, Croatia, Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco. Flying south at the end of the breeding season, Audouin’s gull spends the winter on the coast of north and west Africa. Its population has risen from just 1,000 pairs in 1975 to over 19,000 pairs today, following an increase in discarded fish waste from the fishing industry, particularly at the Ebro delta in Spain (8).

The majority of colonies base themselves on rocky cliffs and islands with medium vegetation cover to provide shelter for chicks, however, the Ebro delta colony inhabits salt marsh and sandy seashore. Unlike many other species of gull, Audouin’s gull is not pelagic, preferring to feed along the coastline (9).

Arriving at the nesting sites between late March and early April, Audouin’s gull forms colonies from a few pairs to several thousand pairs. Each pair faithfully returns to the same breeding colony each year, but different nesting sites are used depending on the success of the previous year’s clutch. Between late April and early May the female lays two to three eggs (9) and incubates them for three weeks (2). The chicks fledge in mid July, when both adults and young leave the colony for the wintering grounds (2).

Audouin’s gull feeds along the coast, taking mostly fish, including waste from the fishing industry, and cephalopods. It will also consume small mammals, arthropods, small birds and plant material (9).

This gull species thrives on human practices of waste fish dumping. The population of Audouin’s gull has risen spectacularly since the fishing industry, particularly in the Ebro delta of Spain, began dumping large volumes of fish waste overboard. Having adapted to this food source, Audouin’s gull populations would now be decimated should the fishing industry choose to use the fish waste as animal food (9). In periods when the fisheries do not operate, Audouin’s gulls have been seen to suffer food shortages, as well as becoming prey for the yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) (10).

Audouin’s gull is also threatened by tourism, which causes both increased coastal development and increased disturbance during the breeding season (8). Bird-watching and research activities have also been known to negatively impact on Audouin’s gull (9). Predation by the red fox and the domestic dog, as well as by other gulls and peregrine falcons is increasing, but is only a minor threat (8).

Audouin’s gull has both a European and an International action plan for its survival. They aim to encourage the implementation of coastal habitat management plans for all Mediterranean countries, as well as calling for the designation of key sites as protected areas. Preventing habitat alteration at breeding sites and reducing disturbance are important. Crucially, the effects of fishing industry practices on Audouin’s gull are to be monitored (9).

For further information on this species see Oeonus - The Hellenic Ornithological Society Magazine:

For the International Action plan for Audouin’s gull see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)