Autumn Birding: Yellow-legged Gull

Hi folks,

On my first day back checking the local harbour in Bray, Co.Wicklow I was delighted to arrive and see up to 30 European Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus), on the small beach at high tide. This gave me a chance to get some nice images of the varies ages and plumages. But what I didn't expect to pick up was anything rare! For the past 3 years I've been trying to find a 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) amongest the large Larus numbers there.

1st winter Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) - Cian Cardiff

So, as I was walking in amongest the Herrings I picked up a lovely showy 1st winter Great Black-backed Gull and was trying to photograph it. But then another big Larus to it's left on the slip way caught my attention, very white headed and with a large chuncky black bill! Could it finally be the 1st winter Yellow-legged I thought would one day appear?  So I took several close up images of this bird and then took some poor quality flight shots, to view the tail. Low and behold the tail was stunning like a immature Yellow-legged should be!! As I have done a lot of work on this age of this species and failed to find one in the harbour over the years I sent this bird into the Western Palearctic Gull group on Facebook and several birding friends to get a second opinion. I would like to thank everybody who commented on the birds Identification. Something I will say, never be afraid of being shot down. I have sent lots of gull images away and been told it's not what I had suspected! But that is how we learn. 

Now the Identification features that lead to it being a Yellow-legged...

Key features:

Bill- Striking as it is chuncky and jet black. (Most of the herring present had thinish and black bills with greyish/pink washes to them) with the occasional exception.

Head - Again a striking feature, as it is extremely white and unstreaked like the majority of the herring present. Almost resembleing a 1st winter Great black-backed gull. The streaking was neat on the neck, often not shown on many herring gull. And as on most if not all 1st year Yellow-legged it shows the dark eye mask which is a striking feature when seen well.

1st winter Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) - Cian Cardiff

Breast - Much whiter than a lot of the herring present. And more pronounced than many herring. With the streaking and markings being rather neat compared to the messy looking herrings.

Mantle - Most of the Scapulars had started to be replaced, becoming 2nd generation feathers. Most herring have not reached this advantaged stage yet, as they where likely to be born later than this Yellow-legged. So a good feature of birds in the field when seen well. As Yellow-legged gull are one of the earliest breeders of the large white headed gull family. Many of the herring gull present had just replaced some of their upper scapulars with the occasional bird that had not replaced any or just 1 or 2 scaps, indicating that they maybe from further north than the other birds. Suggesting they may be Northern type birds so, 'Argentatus' Or Scandinavian herring gull.

1st winter Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) - Cian Cardiff

Coverts - The Greater and Median coverts on the birds wing are not that unlike that of some of the herrings, though there is a little more moult and replacement happening on the Yellow-legged. And the Greater coverts have become rather tatty compared to some of the tidy Herring present.

Tertials - They are notched, (Which I was often told wasn't good for Yellow-legged and is documented on some ID work) But on this bird that is clearly not so. Other than that the tertials are not much different to any of the herrings, bar being more worn due to moult.

1st winter Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) - Cian Cardiff

Primaries - Long, compared to some of the short winged herring. But there is some long winged 1st winter Lesser black-backed present, but the features should help eliminate Lbb. On this Yellow-legged you can already see the signs of mirrors coming through! They will begin to show in it later 2nd year plumage.

Legs - Give a fleshy pinky appearance. But unlike adult type birds 1st year birds do not show Yellow legs despite the name. At this age the leg colour is not a key feature. Though this bird does show lighter coloured legs to most herring present.

1st winter Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) - Cian Cardiff

Tail - The spread tail shot was key to get, unfortunately it's not very sharp but none the less showing the neat tail band. The tail is a lot 'Clearner' than most herring, and must less barred. Resembling more like a 1st year Lesser-black backed than herring. (But be aware some herring can show unusual tail patterns) 

Hope this helps, still learning as I go about these gulls. And enjoying every moment! #IDandAgeing #finding #Vikingoptical #Gulls #winter



  1. Really nice post. I hope I see a Herring in my LP always with YLegs. The problem to far away for pics. Good luck with your blog!

    1. Many thanks, glad you like it. You just have to love gulls!


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