Yellow-legged Gull - Larus michahellis

(last update: October 08 2013)

Delfín González
Gabriel Martín
Antonio Gutierrez
Amir Ben Dov
Mars Muusse

Larus michahellis - 4CY / sub-adult October

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.

General description

At the landfill of Dannes, near Le Portel, mixed flocks of mainly Lesser Black-backed Gulls (1.000's) from NW and N Europe can be found including 100's of adult and sub-adult Yellow-legged Gulls early October. Most individuals of this page were photographed at Dannes.

As can be seen in the images, sub-adult Yellow-legged Gulls look very tidy and neat again by the start of the month. Early October, almost all feather tracts have been replaced and active moult can be found in the outer primaries. Fresh moulted wing-coverts are plain grey, with neat fringes. The fringes may be slightly paler in very fresh condition. The most striking differences between those 4CY birds in September and adults is the dark bill-band, present on both upper and lower mandible in sub-adult birds. The legs are slightly paler yellow in 4CY birds, where adults show deep saturated yellow legs. Most striking differences between those 4CY birds in October and adults is:

  • relatively pale bare part coloration compared to full adults, although differences are subtle. The base of the bill is rather pale yellow, often different from the deep yellow tip of the bill. The black bill-band is often well developed in most sub-adults. The legs are yellow with a whitish wash;

  • black markings on the old rectrices. Often isolated limited black spots near the centre, although most rectrices are moulted to completely white tail-feathers by September and sub-adults with old rectrices are rare;

  • the grey centres of the primary coverts show a brown hue and the shaft is often an accentuated black line over the centre of the outer primary coverts;

  • 4CY birds have dark centres on the greater primary coverts.

Used as a single characteristic, the evidence is not very convincing, but individuals that combine these characteristics are probably 4CY or 5CY birds. 

Moult stage and pace of remiges and rectrices

Regarding moult pace and timing, sub-adults much resemble full adult birds. 
Early October, the average sub-adult michahellis still show active moult in the inner secondaries. The tail-feathers were already fully grown by September and the complete moult is nearly finished, with sub-adults still growing the outermost primaries P9 and P10.
The table below shows the moult score on October 04 2002, with the fully grown primary score average of 8.1 (n = 23).

Complete vs partial moult in September

The complete moult in the wing-coverts was finished in September. Although the outer primaries are still growing, partial moult starts again in the outer median coverts and the inner greater coverts. Upper tertials may be included in this moult as well. This partial moult started in the last week of August and continues in September. By October the partial moult in the wing-coverts is finished. In the September 2CY michahellis section this partial moult in 2CY birds is explained. The extend and timing of this partial moult in sub-adults may differ slightly. 

See Topography Section for explanation of feather tracts.


sub-adult michahellis: score of fully grown new primaries in October
Pas-de-Calais (Etaples - Boulogne sur Mer, NW France).
  P7 new P8 new P9 new P10 new m = n = SD =
04 Oct 2002* 1 18 4 - 8.1 23 0.46
sub-adult birds identified by primary-covert pattern, bare part coloration, wing-tip pattern and colour-ring number.


2cy michahellis in August, ringed in Switzerland.Yellow-legged Gull michahellis 4CY & 9CY INLD October 2001, September & November 2006, Chioggia, Venezia, Italy. Picture: Marco Basso & Menotti Passarella.
6651.jpg (88518 bytes)Yellow-legged Gull michahellisHES M013922 4CY-5CY, October 2013 & December 2014, Barneveld, the Netherlands. Picture: Maarten van Kleinwee & Merijn Loeve.
Yellow-legged Gull michahellis sub-adult, October 25 2008, Etaples, France.
6651.jpg (88518 bytes)Yellow-legged Gull michahellis sub-adult, October 01 2001, Le Portel, France (50.43N-01.37E).
6742.jpg (98943 bytes)Yellow-legged Gull michahellis sub-adult, October 01 2001, Le Portel, France (50.43N-01.37E).
6809.jpg (101435 bytes)Yellow-legged Gull michahellis sub-adult, October 01 2001, Le Portel, France (50.43N-01.37E).
6827.jpg (90873 bytes)Yellow-legged Gull michahellis sub-adult, October 01 2001, Le Portel, France (50.43N-01.37E).
5290.jpg (56796 bytes)Yellow-legged Gull michahellis sub-adult, October 03 2002, Le Portel, France (50.43N-01.37E).
5308.jpg (57758 bytes)Yellow-legged Gull michahellis sub-adult, October 03 2002, Le Portel, France (50.43N-01.37E).
5358.jpg (53583 bytes)Yellow-legged Gull michahellis 3CY / sub-adult, October 03 2002, Etaples, France (50.43N-01.37E).
7383.jpg (79600 bytes)Yellow-legged Gull michahellis sub-adult, October 22 2001, Westkapelle, the Netherlands (51.33N,3.25E). Note the black centre in the outer primary covert, just visible as this bird stretches the wing.