Caspian gull (Larus cachinnans)

Also known as: yellow-legged gull, yellow-legged herring gull
GenusLarus (1)
SizeLength: 58 - 68 cm (2)
Wingspan: 140 - 155 cm (2)
Weight800 - 1500 g (2)

The Caspian gull (Larus cachinnans) is Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Previously listed as a subspecies of the herring gull (Larus argentatus), the Caspian gull (Larus cachinnans) is now considered to be a species in its own right (3). This slender gull typically has bright yellow legs, though around five to ten percent of individuals in northwest Spain have legs that are pink or partly pink (2) (4). It has a large white head and a deep yellow bill with a distinctive bright red spot (2). The white plumage of the body merges into a grey back and wings, with black and white wingtips (2).

While there is no difference in plumage between the male and female, males tend to be slightly larger (5). Young birds in their first winter have a dark bill and dark eyes, pink-grey legs, and a mottled grey-brown plumage with a white back and wings (2)

Adult Caspian gulls can be distinguished from herring gulls by their darker wings and pale iris, which is surrounded by a dark and prominent red ring (2).

The Caspian gull’s range includes Europe, the Middle East, northwest Africa and central Asia. A resident of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, the Caspian gull also breeds seasonally in eastern Kazakhstan and on the central Asian steppes (6).

A versatile bird, the Caspian gull occupies both coastal and inland habitats (2). Colonies can be found on rocky cliffs and outcrops, as well as sandy and rocky islands, beaches and on grassy or shrubby river islands (6). The Caspian gull is also often found in areas of human activity such as rubbish dumps, harbours and ports (6).

Living along the coast in areas of high human activity, the Caspian gull has become an opportunistic feeder, following fishing boats and taking fish offal, as well as foraging on rubbish tips (6). In areas where human activity is less prevalent, adults feed on a range of organisms from invertebrates to other bird’s eggs and chicks. This species diet can vary between colonies, with the Caspian Sea colony also feeding on small rodents and mole-crickets (2). 

The Caspian gull’s breeding strategy is similar to that of the herring gull. Breeding occurs from mid March to April, and colonies comprise approximately 8,000 pairs on high ground, often far from water (2). Breeding colonies usually contain a mixture of species with clusters of the same species within (2). It typically nests under bushes, building its nest from feathers, vegetation and nearby debris. Usually 2 to 3 eggs are laid, and the female incubates the clutch for 26 to 29 days. The chicks are fledged at six to seven weeks (2).

This species is migratory and, outside of the breeding season, it moves to its wintering grounds which include coast of southwest Asia, the northwest coast of Africa, and from the Arabian Peninsula up to northwest India (2).

While the Caspian gull is a relatively common species, it is known to be vulnerable to oil pollution (2), and is also hunted for sport in the Ukraine (7).

There are currently no known conservation actions targeting the Caspian gull.

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

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  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2011)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. & Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the birds of the World. Vol. 3. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Sangster, G., Collinson, J.M., Knox, A.G., Parkin, D.T. and Svensson, L. (2007) Taxonomic recommendations for British birds: Fourth report. Ibis, 149(4): 853-857.
  4. Olsen, K.M., and Larsson, H. (2004) Gulls of North America, Europe, and Asia. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
  5. Bosch, M. (1996) Sexual size dimorphism and determination of sex in yellow-legged gulls. Journal of Field Orthinology, 67(4): 534-541.
  6. Birdlife International (August, 2011)
  7. Rudenko, A.G. (2006) Migration of Pontic Gulls Larus cachinnans form ‘ponticus’ ringed in the south of Ukraine: a review of recoveries from 1929 to 2003. In: Boere, G.C., Galbraith, C.A. and Stroud, D.A. (Eds.) Waterbirds around the world. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh. Availaible at: