Jen Chandler

Black-headed gull in winter plumage - Dave Buttery

Black-headed gull - Dave Buttery

Our photo of the week is a striking image of a black-headed gull in flight. But, 'where is its black head?' you may exclaim! Well, this image from Nature's Home reader Dave Buttery shows the gull in its winter plumage. For the black-headed gull, this means that its chocolate-brown head feathers, which it has for most of the year, are replaced by white ones, signifying the end of the breeding season.

The black-headed gull can be seen all year round. For many of us, the association of a ‘gull’ is one that is found by the seaside: when we hear them calling we think of the coast! Surprisingly, this gull is more likely to be found inland, often on fields. In January and February, they may even be spotted in gardens, on the lookout for food to get them through these colder months.

They share behavioural qualities similar to us humans – they are sociable and are often found in small groups or flocks. They'll gather in larger groups when they find a suitable food source such as worms, insects, fish and carrion, or when they begin to roost. Another shared quality is they are also known to have a falling out or two!

Spot the difference

There are a couple of other species of gull that are very similar in colour and size to the black-headed gull. They are the little gull and the Mediterranean gull. Below is a comparison of the three adult birds in their winter plumage to help with identification.

Black-headed gull, little gull and Mediterranean gull - Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)

Black-headed gull, little gull and Mediterranean gull - Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)

The black-headed gull in winter has relatively all over white plumage with a black ear spot.

The little gull, as its name suggests is a small, dainty gull. As you can see from the image above, the non-breeding adult has light grey top feathers, a dark smudged area on its crown and a black spot ear spot.

The Mediterranean gull is larger in appearance compared to the other two birds, and its standout feature is a bright red, slightly drooped beak.

You are more likely to spot a black-headed gull if you are inland, so, next time you hear the squawk of a gull, look up! You might be pleasantly surprised to find a sighting of the gull in its winter best!

Keep an eye out for black-headed gulls when you do your Big Garden Birdwatch (29-31 January 2021).

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For more on reserves, visit our Reserves A-Z and head over to our Bird A-Z for identification and behaviour information. Email: natureshome@rspb.org.uk

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