Little Gull Larus minutus

(last update: March 02, 2015)

Amir Ben Dov (Israel)
Igor Deņisov (Latvia)
Mars Muusse (Netherlands)

Little Gull 1st cycle (1CY)

(from: Malling Olsen, K. & Larsson, H. 2004 Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America.
London: Christopher Helm).


Length 25-27cm, wingspan 75-80cm. The world’s smallest gull, about two-thirds the size of Black-headed and much more compact than other small gulls. Large, rounded head, short, slim bill and compact shape create a confiding gentle look. Short legs make settled bird look even smaller than it really is. Wings proportionately shorter and broader than in other gulls with rounded (adult) or pointed (first-year) tip. Bill and crown dark in all plumages. In summer associated with fresh water but in winter mainly marine.

Flight buoyant, recalling marsh tern Chlidonias; feeds with ‘yo-yo’ movements towards water surface like marsh tern (and regularly associates with them) or ‘patters’ at surface like storm petrel. Wingbeats quick and fluttering; deeper and slower in head-wind, when it advances slowly, often with short, abrupt dips towards surface. Often migrates low over water in dense tern-like flocks, but may fly high in calm weather. In hard side- and tail-winds, flight is surprisingly rapid with almost shearwater-like turns - an adaptation to its mainly pelagic winter habitat. Swimming bird looks neckless and sits high on water like a cork.

Adult has blackish underwing and pale grey upperwing, bordered entirely by distinct white, which emphasizes rounded wing-tip. Contrast between pale upperparts and black underwing creates ‘negative image’ compared to dark-backed gulls, making distant birds easy to pick out among terns and smaller gulls. Underbody may show slight rosy tinge. Legs red and bill black. In summer hood is jet-black, more square-cut than in Black-headed and reaching further down onto nape. Has black bill and lacks white eye-crescents of most other hooded gulls. In winter, head white with dark cap and ear-spot, the former sometimes reduced by late winter. Often shows extensive grey wash on sides of neck and breast, concolorous with upperparts.

Juvenile has head similar to adult winter, but more extensive dark crown and ear-spot. Saddle blackish-brown with prominent pale scales, showing up as transverse barring. Dark of upperparts extends onto breast-sides (creating marking similar to juvenile Black Tern), sometimes covering entire breast. Upperwing with obvious black W as in first-year Black-legged Kittiwake and Ross’s Gull, created by dark outer primaries and dark diagonal bar over wing-coverts, but also a faint dark secondary bar (lacking in congeners), offsetting white rump and tail-base. There is some variation, and some have much more extensively marked upperparts (see Aberrants). Wing-tip narrower, more pointed than in adult. Tail with near-complete black band, unlike first-year Ross’s, which shows projecting central tail with triangular black patch, not reaching sides of tail. Compared to Ross’s Gull and Black-legged Kittiwake, Little furthermore smaller and more compact with more extensively dark wing-tip, square-cut tail and smart dark cap. Underwing white, with black tips to outer primaries, creating trailing edge of outer wing as in many terns. Legs reddish-flesh. In autumn gradually moults into first-winter, which combines adult head and body with juvenile wings and tail. Upper mantle often black to early Nov, but upperparts grey from Dec. First-summer similar to first-winter, but head with varying dark markings, ranging from dull adult-like hood to head pattern basically as in winter, but with broader markings behind eye. By late spring, outer wing becomes duller and browner through wear; outer primaries contrast with black carpal bar, and upperwing W then less evident, most obvious on inner wing. Tail-bar often incomplete with white feathers in midtail, in spring regularly with strange-looking combination of all-white (renewed) tail but still juvenile wing.

Second-winter similar to adult winter, but with black markings near tips of P6-P10 (similar to second-winter Mediterranean). Underwing two-toned with grey coverts and blackish primaries. Underwing can be quit pale greyish, when confusion with adult winter Ross’s possible, but Ross’s (which see) shows wedge-shaped tail, white trailing edge that does not reach outermost primaries and no dark cap. Some Little show darlk-patterned tertials, secondaries and primary coverts.

Second-summer similar to second-winter, but hood as adult summer.

Third winter/ summer as adult, but birds with grey instead of black underwing coverts probably this age.


8210.jpg (74296 bytes) Little Gull minutus, 1st cycle (1CY), September 16 2014, Nesebar, Bulgaria. Picture: Igor Deņisov.


8210.jpg (74296 bytes) Little Gull minutus 1st cycle (1CY), October 01 2013, Herriot's Pool , Chew Valley Lake, UK. Picture: Len.
8210.jpg (74296 bytes) Little Gull minutus, 1st cycle (1CY), October 17 2011, Riga, Latvia. Picture: Igor Deņisov.
8210.jpg (74296 bytes) Little Gull minutus, 1st cycle (1CY), October 15 2011, Riga, Latvia. Picture: Igor Deņisov.


8210.jpg (74296 bytes) Little Gull minutus, 1st cycle (1CY), December 06 2011, Riga, Latvia. Picture: Igor Deņisov.
8210.jpg (74296 bytes) Little Gull minutus, 1st cycle (1CY), December 01 2011, Riga, Latvia. Picture: Igor Deņisov.
8210.jpg (74296 bytes) Little Gull minutus, 1st cycle (1CY), December 05 2013, Riga, Latvia. Picture: Igor Deņisov.