Black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus)

French: Mouette rieuse
GenusLarus (1)
SizeLength: 35-39 cm (2)
Wingspan: 86-99 cm (2)
Weight200-400 g (3)

The black-headed gull is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Green List (low conservation concern) (3). Receives general protection in Great Britain under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (4).

The common name of this species is inaccurate, as adult black-headed gulls (Larus ridibundus) have a chocolate-brown head in summer (5). In winter, this brown hood retreats and the birds have a largely white head with a dark spot behind the eye (5). Other distinguishing features include the prominent white leading edge of the upper wing, which is visible from a fair distance, the tern-like slender wings and the reddish coloured bill and legs (2). Juveniles are different in appearance to adults; they have ginger-brown coloured upperparts and a yellowish bill with a black tip (2). This is a noisy species during the breeding season, producing a loud kwarr call and a short kwup (6).

This gull is widespread in Britain, in inland areas as well as by the coast (5). The black-headed gull is particularly common at inland sites in north England, Scotland and Wales (3). In winter the British population is augmented by birds from continental Europe (5). This gull has a wide global breeding range that extends through the Palaearctic (4).

In winter, the black-headed gull is found in a wide range of habitats including coastal marshes, farmland, rubbish tips, urban parks, gardens and playing fields (5). Usual breeding habitats include marshes, ponds, lakes, bogs, gravel pits and dry sites next to water bodies, such as sand-dunes and moorland (4) (3).

These gregarious birds are usually seen in flocks or small groups (3). They feed on worms, other soil invertebrates, scraps, rubbish, carrion and fish (3) (5). During winter, black-headed gulls roost on open water, typically fresh water, although they may occasionally make use of sheltered estuaries (5).

These gulls nest in colonies, within which pairs defend small territories. They will defend these territories from other birds using ritualised displays (7). Two to three eggs are produced which are incubated for up to 26 days. After a further 35 days the chicks will have fledged (3). Black-headed gulls are fairly long lived, with a maximum recorded life-span of 32 years (3).

The black-headed gull is not threatened at present.

Conservation action has not been targeted at the black-headed gull.

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  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterström, D. & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. RSPB A-Z of Birds: black-headed gull (February 2004):
  4. JNCC Special Protection Areas for the black-headed gull (February 2004):
  5. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.
  6. Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G. & Hollom, P.A.D. (1993) Collins Field Guide- Birds of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  7. Holden, P. & Sharrock, J.T.R. (2002) The RSPB Guide to British Birds. Pan Macmillan, London.