Gulls are notoriously difficult to identify correctly. The plumage of several species changes slowly over the first two or three years of their life. There are numerous closely related species, some of which can be split further into sub-species, a lot of which interbreed. They also tend to travel large distances and roam into new territories freely, often not constrained to any particular habitat or, let’s be honest, any motive beyond stuffing their fat faces.
So the relative simplicity of identifying black-headed gulls is quite refreshing. At this time of year you are just looking for a gull with (yes, you’ve guessed it) a chocolate brown head. No. Black-headed gulls don’t have black heads. If you see a gull with an actual black head it is probably a Mediterranean Gull, possibly a Little Gull (if it little) or (less likely but not impossibly) a Bonaparte’s Gull or a Laughing Gull or, I guess a Franklin’s Gull, or (and now we are really stretching the likelihood to it’s limit as there hasn’t been an accepted British record since 1859) a Pallas’s Gull. If it has a really dark grey hood it could be a Sabine’s Gull, but again it’s not very likely. If there are a few of them, and they are on a car park or a playing field or whatever then I’d advise checking again, just to make sure their heads aren’t actually dark brown after all. They probably are. They probably are black-headed gulls. There are a lot of them about.
Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus)
- Probably ignore the picture.
- They don’t really look like that.
- But you know what gulls look like.
- Just look for a gull with a brown head.
- Although in the winter it will just be a dot on the side of their head as they only have brown heads in the summer to look all fancy for breeding and the like. But anyway, by winter you’ll be well good at this identifying birds lark so don’t panic about the heads not being brown any more. Don’t sweat it, dude. Don’t sweat it.