lusitanius Yellow-legged Gull

(last update: 10-12-2013 )

Gabriel Martín
Antonio Gutierrez
Rui Caratão
Mars Muusse

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adult: November

Below you find a translation of the article "LE GOELAND ARGENTE PORTUGAIS (Larus argentatus lusitanius), NOUVELLE FORME DE GOELAND ARGENTE A PATTES JAUNES" by C. Joiris.

"I" in the text below refers to the original author C. Joiris. The text has been translated with most care, but if any errors occur, please let me know and mail to marsmuusseatgmaildotcom.

THE PORTUGUESE HERRING GULL (Larus argentatus lusitanius),


IN: AVES, 15 (1978): 17-18

According to current literature, Herring Gulls we observe on the Iberian peninsular are mainly Larus argentatus michahellis, characterized by the yellow legs, moderately dark upperparts (darker than L. a. argentatus >with pink legs) and the larger size than the nominate form. These birds can be found in Spain, Portugal, the Mediterranean Sea east to the Balkans. Another form, L. a. atlantis, in size comparable to L. a. argentatus, is much darker on mantle and also has yellow legs; it occupies the Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands and maybe this form also occurs on the Atlantic coast of Morocco (Dementev et al., 1969; Fisher and Lockley, 1954; Vaurie, 1965; Witherby et al., 1941). It should be noted that, according to Fisher and Lockley, Portugal is occupied by atlantis and Vaurie indicates that the birds of Morocco are clearly different from atlantis, in fact much closer to Mediterranean michahellis.

On January 27 1976, near Peniche (Portugal, 75 km N-NW of Lisbon), my attention was attracted by several groups of Herring Gull (over 200 birds in total) with yellow legs. In one group there were three sub-adults with pink legs, grey upperparts, and oibvious black streaking on head and neck and with quite dark lores, which I first identified as L. a. argentatus. After direct comparison on the characteristics of Yellow-legged Gulls, the difference was even more obvious: significantly smaller in size and the upperparts appeared more silvery grey (pearl grey). The head and neck of the adults were immaculate white, and the legs saturated yellow. The immature birds had the underside pale beige, the back clearly marked with transversal bars, a clean head with only very dark lores.

It is striking that this description does not correspond to the literature of adult L. a. michahellis, mainly on size, nor does it fit L. a. atlantis, because of the pale color of the upperparts. These observations seem to be sufficient to consider that the Atlantic coast of Portugal is occupied by yet another form, which we propose to call Larus argentatus lusitanius. It seems likely that this form is also commonly found in Morocco; which places this form between atlantis and michahellis, both in characteristics and in its distribution.

The habitat frequented by these Yellow-legged Gulls consists of steep rocky cliffs on the coast, on islands, and on inaccessible rocks near the coast. The ecological separating of these birds from British Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Larus fuscus graellsii), also present in the area by thousands, frequenting beaches, estuaries and sewage outlets, is straightforward: Lesser Black-backed Gulls do not breed on such steep cliffs. Herring Gulls breed on cliffs frequently, but have not been observed here.


DEMENTEV, G.P., GLADKOV, N.A. and SPANGENBERG, E.P (1969): Birds of the Soviet Union, volume III. Translated from Russian. Jerusalem.

FISHER, J. and LOCHLEY, R.M. (1954): Sea-birds. London.

VAURIE, C. (1965): The birds of the palearctic fauna. Non-passeiformes. London.

WHITERBY, H.F., JOURDAIN, F.C.R., TICEHURST, N.F. and TUCKER, B.W. (l94l): The Handbook of British Birds, volume V. London.

Yellow-legged Gull lusitanius 17cy ANR November 07 2012, Peniche, Portugal. Picture: Rui Caratão. ANR yellow is a YLG ringed in 1996 by Lurdes Morais as pullus, in Berlengas Islands.
Yellow-legged Gull lusitanius 15cy TCY November 28 2012, Peniche, Portugal. Picture: Rui Caratão. TCY yellow is a YLG from Berlengas probably ringed in 1998, the last year of the YLG campaign. P8 fully grown., P9-P10 growing. No mirror on P9. Note much black on bill.
Yellow-legged Gull lusitanius ZNA3 November 2007, Galicia, Spain. Picture: Antonio Gutierrez. Bird seen on many occasions between 2004-2009.
Yellow-legged Gull lusitanius adult, November 07 2012, Peniche, Portugal. Picture: Rui Caratão.
Yellow-legged Gull lusitanius adult, November 28 2012, Peniche, Portugal. Picture: Rui Caratão.
Yellow-legged Gull lusitanius adult, November 29 2012, Peniche, Portugal. Picture: Rui Caratão.
Yellow-legged Gull lusitanius adult, November 28 2012, Peniche, Portugal. Picture: Rui Caratão.
Yellow-legged Gull lusitanius adult, November 07 2012, Peniche, Portugal. Picture: Rui Caratão.