Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Glaucous Gull
1st winter Glaucous Gull with a Herring Gull
Photography © John Dempsey
South Uist - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
The glaucous gull is the one at the back, this is a useful photograph to give an idea of just how big a glaucous gull is.
Our Glaucous Gull photographs
- Glaucous Gull
- Larus hyperboreus
- Gaelic: Faoileag-mhor
- UK: Winter Visitor, 200+ UK (winter) RSPB
- WI: Uncommon winter and passage visitor (low numbers). Scarce in summer (very small numbers recorded in most years)
- Breeds: Bird nests on ground or cliffs. Arctic & Northern Atlantic European coasts: Greenland, Iceland, North Russia, North North America.
- Winters: Mostly North Atlantic & North Pacific oceans, some go as far south as Northern Mexico
- Habitat: Seacoasts, lakes, rubbish tips, reservoirs, fishing ports (with other winter gulls)
- Large gull. Bigger, bulkier bird than herring gull. Pale wingtips (no black in wings & tail)
Adult pearl-grey above, thick yellow bill. Immatures very pale-grey, creamy-white or biscuit coloured with pink & black bill. More fierce looking than similar (smaller) Iceland gull
- Diet: Omnivorous: mostly animals, also other seabirds (in flight) scavenges carrion, scraps & is a pirate
- Listen to a Glaucous Gull (RSPB site)
- Similar birds: Herring Hull, Iceland Gull
Like some of the other gulls, an adult glaucous gull has a bright red spot on the lower part of it's yellow bill. A chicks peck at this spot when it wants to be fed, and this stimulates the parent to regurgitate what it last ate, providing food for the chick.
In the adult glaucous gull, the back and the upper sides of the wings are very pale grey. The underparts and tail are completely white. In summer the bird's head is pure white and in winter it is brown-streaked.
At all ages the legs and feet of the bird are pale pink .
Glaucous gulls are not sexually mature until they are four years old. The immatures often spend the summer in the breeding grounds with the adults, but do not make nests.
Although the immatures of a gull species are distinguishable from one another by age group, identifiying the actual species of immature gulls is a challenge if there is more than one species present.
Immature glaucous gulls are usually a lot paler overall than other species. They always have a bill that is partially black toward the tip, pink at the base and have almost white wing-tips. There are four classes of immature glaucous gull. The wintering birds arrive in Autumn and as the winter progresses their plumage gradually develops towards that of the next year, so a bird arriving in November will look very different when it is ready to move on in the following spring.
- A glaucous gull that is all-over (heavily patterned) mottled light-brown and has a black end-third to it's otherwise pink bill, was born this year, and has come down from the Northern breeding grounds. It is on it's first winter migration. (juvenile, 1st winter, 1st year, This year's)
- If the bill is still pink at the base, and then there is about a quarter of it black, with the very tipmost part pale, and the bird is generally blotchy (and less evenly patterned), the bird is probably a glaucous gull that is in it's second winter.
- By third winter barring will/should still be there on under/upper tail coverts, also brownish areas on upper-wing, although rest of bird should be as an adult. The bill is pink with just a little black, and a small pale tip.
- When the bird has a yellow bill, (sometimes with red spot) with faint black markings toward the tip and the plumage is mottled pale grey above and is almost white below (may still have patches of light brown). It is probably a 4th winter bird (AKA: after 3rd winter, after 3rd year )
- The adult glaucous gull is much paler and larger than a herring gull, and has white wing-tips
Glaucous gulls live up to 17 years and often return every winter to the same location.
Glaucous Gull records in the Western Isles
Uncommon winter and passage visitor (low numbers). Scarce in summer (very small numbers recorded in most years)
Source: Outer Hebrides Bird Report (2001)
On the chart below the darker the shade of blue the more abundant the bird is during a month or the more likely you are to see it.
(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)
Special thanks to Terry Fountain for his help.
John's Blog of his two week stay in the Uists