Yellow-legged Gull - Larus michahellis
(last update: October 08 2013)
Larus michahellis - 4CY / sub-adult July
This website deals with the Yellow-legged Gull taxon michahellis, which is a common migrant from July to December in NW Europe. After extensive expansion of the breeding population during the last three decades, it nowadays can be found breeding in Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain in mixed couples with both Herring Gull (argenteus) and Lesser Black-backed Gull (graellsii). There are subtle differences between the populations from the Mediterranean, Atlantic coast of Portugal and Morocco and from the islands in the Atlantic. Most pronounced differences can be found in the taxon atlantis, now regarded as full species by some authors and birds along the Atlantic coast of the Iberian peninsular: lusitanius. Both atlantis and lusitanius are treated in their own sections on this website.
Early July and from
July 26-30 2001 we did small surveys on Yellow-legged Gulls at Le
Portel (near Boulogne-sur-Mer) and Etaples (near Le Tourquet). In these surveys, we
scored moult stages to determine timing of moult in primaries (and wing-
coverts and body-feathers) in sub-adult michahellis.
Regarding identification: the difference between 3CY birds and 4CY birds can best be established by the outer primary, which is still unshed by July: 4CY birds show a small but obvious white mirror on P10, while 3CY birds have the (second generation) outer primary all brown. In birds with very worn outer primary tips it may be difficult to ascertain whether a mirror has been present or not. Other clues can be found in the bare part coloration, with 4CY strongly resembling adults.
Complete moult in July:
As can be seen in most of the images, sub-adult Yellow-legged Gulls look very untidy and mottled in their July plumage. Simultaneous moult is in progress in the primaries, wing-coverts, tertials, scapulars and the tail-feathers. Fresh moulted wing-coverts can be found in the median row and outer lower lesser coverts in most cases and these fresh grey median coverts normally strongly contrast with the brown-hued lesser coverts and old greater coverts. The old coverts have very abraded fringes and often a brown hue. By early July, the upper tertial has been shed in many birds, as is the case with the central tail-feathers.
Moult stage and pace of remiges and rectrices:
The table below shows the average score of immature Yellow-legged Gulls, range between 3CY birds to 5CY birds. Individuals in 3CY show no mirror on P10, 4CY birds have various wing-coverts, tertials or tail-feathers with black markings and 5CY birds are very adult-like. All birds showing black on the bill combined with dark outer primary coverts were included in this score. It's hard to predict the score of new primaries; too many resting and sleeping birds could not be scored on the new fresh grown inner primaries (over 35% of the immature birds present were not scored in detail and are clustered in the table under "P?"). The average score of old primaries is 8.1, hence on average less than two old primaries are still present in the last week of July.
In 3CY birds, the early-July score averages 7.0 (n=33 on July 10 2002), so three old primaries left. By the end of July, the average primary moult score is 8.5 (n=39 on July 29 2001; n=53 on July 30 2001), only slightly higher than 4CY michahellis.
In adult birds, the early-July score averages 6.3 (n=66 on July 11 2001), so more than three old primaries left in most birds. By the end of July, the average primary moult score is 7.6 (n=50 on July 28 2001) and 7.7 (n=56 on July 29 2001) in adults, so slightly behind compared to 4CY michahellis. Adult birds were selected on plain grey primary coverts.
By the time P4 is fully grown, 2CY
birds normally start the complete moult in secondaries and rectrices. 3CY birds
start slightly later, when P5 is fully grown, although individual
variation may exist. Sub-adult michahellis probably follow a
moult timing similar to 3CY birds. Old tail-feathers may still show
much black, typically found on third generation rectrices, but old
feathers are not necessarily third generation in michahellis.
As can be seen in previous sections, tail-feathers may be included
in the partial autumn moult in both 1CY and 2CY, so old
tail-feathers in July sub-adults may be completely white as well.
However, the new white tail-feathers can be recognized by the neat
fringes and tips.
Timing and strategy of body & covert moult in July
Wing-covert moult in 3CY and sub-adult michahellis vary between individuals. In general, conclusions based on average sub-adult michahellis are:
See Topography Section for explanation of feather tracts.
|Yellow-legged Gull michahellis 4CY S1GC July 30 2010, Łubna rubbish dump, Poland. Picture: Michal Rycak.|
|Yellow-legged Gull michahellis 4CY S6HK July 01 2010, Crikvenica, Croatia (45.11 N 14.42 E). Picture: Gabor Hajas.|
|Yellow-legged Gull michahellis 4CY S425 July 12 2005, Preko, island Ugljan, Croatia (44.05 N 15.11 E). Picture: P. Kmecl.|
|Yellow-legged Gull michahellis ITB CF0697 4CY, July 16 2010, Gouda, the Netherlands. Picture: Johannes Luiten.|
|Yellow-legged Gull michahellis sub-adult, July 10 2002, Etaples, NW France. A sub-adult with active moult in the tail-feathers and some black on the cutting edge of the lower mandible.|
|Yellow-legged Gull michahellis 4CY, July 26 2001, Etaples France P10 with small mirror. P8-P10 old, central tail-feathers growing, white.|
|Yellow-legged Gull michahellis 4CY, July 27 2001, Le Portel France. P8-P10 old and P5 at the length of P4.|
|Yellow-legged Gull michahellis 4CY, July 30 2001, Le Portel France. P10 showing a small mirror.|
|Yellow-legged Gull michahellis group, July 27 2001, Etaples France. Left is a 4CY with P4 growing and P7-P10 old.|