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A photo of a Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus)
Little Gull

Little Gull

Hydrocoloeus minutus

The little gull, Hydrocoloeus minutus, is a diminutive member of the Laridae family, distinguished as the smallest gull species worldwide. It is the sole representative of the monospecific genus Hydrocoloeus.

Identification Tips

Adults in breeding attire sport a striking black hood, complemented by a dark red bill and vivid red legs, with a subtle rosy blush gracing the underside. In contrast, their non-breeding plumage features a black cap with an ear spot, a black bill, and more subdued red legs. Across all plumages, a pale grey back and upperwings are present, with white primaries that starkly contrast the dark grey underwing. Juveniles are marked by extensive blackish areas on the back and head, and in flight, they exhibit a dark "W" pattern on the upperwings against white underwings. By their first winter, they resemble adults but retain the distinctive upperwing pattern, which gradually fades by the second year.

Habitat

The little gull favors nesting amidst dense vegetation in shallow freshwater environments, such as rivers, marshes, and bogs, occasionally venturing to coastal lagoons or brackish waters. During migration, they are typically found along coastlines but may venture inland. Wintering habitats include coastal areas with sandy or muddy substrates, river mouths, and even open sea, often drawn to sewage outfalls.

Distribution

This gull has a broad Palearctic range, breeding from northern Scandinavia to eastern Siberia, with colonies also in North America around the Great Lakes. It migrates to winter along European coasts, reaching as far south as the Mediterranean, Black, and Caspian Seas, and is less common in the western Pacific. In North America, small numbers winter along the Atlantic coast down to the Carolinas. Notably, non-breeding birds have been summering in western Europe in increasing numbers.

Behaviour

The little gull is migratory, arriving at breeding sites from late April to late May and departing from mid-July. Egg-laying commences in mid-June. They often nest in mixed colonies with other gulls and terns, though some pairs nest solitarily. Outside breeding areas, they are sociable, forming large flocks that can number in the thousands, especially when inclement weather drives them to sheltered waters. Nests are built on the ground or floating on vegetation in the water.

Diet and Feeding

During the breeding season, these birds primarily consume insects caught on the wing near water surfaces. In winter, their diet shifts to small fish and marine invertebrates.

Conservation status

The little gull is currently classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, indicating a stable population without significant immediate threats to its survival.

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Little Gull Fun Facts

Did you know?
Like its name suggest the Little Gull is the smallest gull species in the world.

Little Gulls on Birda

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