Little Gull Larus minutus

(last update: March 02, 2015)

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

Little Gull 3CY

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



Adult Upperwing pale grey (Kodak Grey Scale 4.5) with white tips to flight feathers, broadest on P10 (in adult male 21-32mm, adult female l8-26mm). P1-P7 with 10-15mm white tips. Median coverts pale grey to white. Scapulars with faint or no whitish crescents. Tail white with 0-4mm fork. Breast to belly white, often with variable pink tinge, sometimes including rump and tail. Axillaries pale to medium grey. Underwing-coverts and primaries blackish to dark grey (Kodak Grey Scale 11-15); rarely medium grey especially on greater (probably younger adults), creating underwing in distant birds similar to Ross’s Gull. Iris blackish-brown. Orbital ring red. Bill black to dark reddish-brown, rarely with bluish-grey base to lower mandible. Gape red, orange-red or pale orange.

Adult summer (Apr-Aug/ Sep) Hood velvety black extending to upper neck. Pink tinge on breast and belly at its strongest (especially breast). Legs scarlet.

Adult winter (Aug-Mar/ Apr) Head white with grey to blackish cap (sometimes indistinct by midwinter), eye-crescents and ear-spot. Black cap sometimes extends to hindneck or connects with ear-spot. Dark cap and ear-spot create white supercilium in between. Often shows grey breast-sides as extension of mantle. Legs dull red to fleshy.

Juvenile (fledging-Sep/ Oct) Head somewhat similar to adult winter, but dark markings more extensive and browner-tinged. Mantle, back and scapulars blackish-brown to black with whitish or creamy fringes creating strong pale scaling or barring, especially on scapulars. Lower scapulars generally pale grey. Inner lesser coverts pale grey. Primary coverts, tertials. median coverts and to a varying degree lesser coverts blackish-brown (with neat pale fringes), creating strong dark midwing-bar, connecting with dark P6-P10 to form distinct dark W on upperwing. Greater coverts pale to mid-grey with narrow pale edges. Lesser and greater coverts may be darker to create broader dark carpal areas (see Aberrants below). Primaries with black outer webs and tips. Inner webs of P6-P8 white, generally reduced on P8-P10, where sometimes dark. P1-P5 pale grey with white tips and dark subterminal spots on P(3)4-5, sometimes bordered with white against greyer bases. Rarely all primaries dark or only P7-P10 dark (Young 1990). Secondaries dark with pale tips and edges forming dark secondary bar, varying from (typically) ill-defined to strong. Shows dark spot on inner secondary, where body and wing meet, on both surfaces. Underwing white with black tips to P6-P10 and black outer web on P10. Rump and uppertail-coverts white, in 1-5% with brown or blackish tips. Tail white with black subterminal bar, broadest on midtail (16-23mm on T1). T5-T6 sometimes white. Underparts white with variable dark brown, buffish- or yellowish-brown suffusion to breast-sides (often forming breast-band), sometimes also to flanks. Iris dark brown to black. Orbital ring and bill black. Gape fleshy. Legs greyish-flesh, pale flesh or reddish, rarely greyish-brown.

First-winter (Aug-Apr) similar to juvenile, but head white with dark grey to blackish eye-crescents, ear-spot and crown, generally darkest on ear-coverts. Crown grey, sometimes weakly marked. May show grey hindneck and sides of neck and breast as extension of mantle colour. Breast-sides generally paler yellowish-buff than in juvenile, rarely continuing across breast. Mantle, back and scapulars pale grey, often with retained juvenile feathers on especially upper mantle and scapulars into Nov. Wing and tail as juvenile but, with wear, white terminal spots on primaries and terminal fringe on tail reduced or lacking. Legs as juvenile; sometimes pale orange.

First-summer (Mar-Oct) similar to first-winter, but in about 50% with more or less dull black, brown or grey hood; normally with some white feathers on forehead; in 20-30% reduced to half-hood behind eye. 10-20% have winter head. Hindneck white. May show pink flush to underparts and lose grey on breast-sides. By summer, wings become worn and faded (from late May, P6-10 often brownish). Tail normally with white T1 from May; sometimes whole tail renewed in spring. Legs dull red to dull reddish-brown. Birds in transition from first-summer to second-winter have patchy grey and white underwing.

Second-winter (Aug-Apr) similar to adult winter, but outer web of P10-6(5) with varying black outer webs or subterminal spots; sometimes black spots on P9-10 only. Best-marked birds have distinct black lines or spots on outer webs of P5-10, normally reduced to subterminal spots on P5-7. May show blackish-brown markings on primary coverts, alula, inner secondaries and tertials (sometimes extensive, especially on tertials). Underwing two-toned with pale grey coverts and dark grey/blackish bases to flight feathers. Small minority show pale bases to flight feathers from surface as well. Axillaries white. Underwing sometimes as adults or with partly ‘adult pattern’ mixed with second-winter characters.

Second-summer (Mar-Oct) Head similar to adult summer, but hood generally duller. Rarely incomplete or lacking. Wing pattern as second-winter, but faded with wear. Legs dull red.

Third-winter (Aug-Apr) as adult winter; birds with black outer web to P10 and/ or dark streaks on outer primary coverts, and grey (not black) underwing-coverts, probably this age.

Third-summer as adult, apart from characters mentioned under third-winter.

Aberrants First-year sometimes with more extensive dark on upperwing. May have brownish-black upperwing-coverts, often with narrow white tips to greater and primary coverts; others have black carpal bar enlarged by dark brown lesser and greater coverts, often with broader dark primary tips from below. Very dark birds have all upperwing-coverts and flight feathers blackish, the former with white tips and edges (Martin 1982, Grant 1986a, Harris et al. 1989, Young 1990, Spanoghe 1997, Larsson 1999a; T. Ortvad & G. de Smet pers. comm.; pers. obs.).
Adult with white eyelids (May; H. & H.J. Lehto in litt.) could be atypically late moulting bird.