13th July 2015 – Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull

I like Gulls, especially big noisy scruffy ones and even though it’s no longer wizardry to be able to pick out both Yellow-legged & Caspian Gulls I still find it very engaging. With the broad spectrum of individual variation it can often be frustrating but overall I really enjoy it.

It’s of course the time of year that Yellow-legged Gulls of all ages start appearing around British shores and Estuaries. Living as I do surrounded by breeding Herring Gulls, it’s obvious that a most juveniles are yet to give up their natal roof tops and are still dependent on their parents. However, Yellow-legged Gulls breed earlier on continental Europe and by early July independent juveniles begin to disperse towards British shores. Although this is a very narrow window, it does mean juvenile Yellow-legs are “out and about” a week or 2 earlier than most of our Herring Gulls. At the time of writing I’ve only seen 1 independent Herring Gull (this morning) but 3 Yellow-legged Gulls, the first on July 1st at Birling Gap.

For me juvenile and 1st winter Yellow-legged Gulls are the most challenging with interchange and variation of features between Lesser black-backed and Herring Gulls causing problems with ID. Todays individual was not the biggest example I’ve seen of that species but the bird did show all the text book features you could wish to see on a bird of this age. It’s not really about one single feature more so an individual that exhibits all the required attributes.


Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull.

Showing a pronounced eye mask and solid, un-notched, dark centred tertials with minimal pale fringes confined to the tips. Overall appearance is cleaner than average Lesser black-backs.


The bird was below Whitbread Hollow at low tide. The only juvenile gathered with 30 other gulls bathing in a fresh water stream that runs out from beneath the cliffs.


This bird did have a long legged, attenuated appearance but that can be subjective and if taken in isolation, of little use. It’s the combination of all these features mentioned that build the picture.

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I have seen really large Yellow-legged Gulls that approach Great black-backed Gulls in feel, this one was not one of those, so I suspect a female.


Seeing the bird in flight is often crucial. This bird had a very striking tail pattern, with a clean, almost white upper tail contrasting with a neat blackish tail band. Although Lesser black-backs can show a similar pattern, Herring Gulls never do having a much more subtle tail. With browner tail band and often a barred upper tail.


Here the upper wing shows paler inner primaries but still less obvious than one would expect on juvenile Herring Gulls but a feature absent or only slightly visible on a Lesser black-backed Gulls. Lesser black-backs appear much darker and concolourous across the upper wing.


Upper wing and tail. Maybe this is a personal thing but I feel Yellow-legs have “blacker”, darker areas of the wing in particular the primary feathers. Herring Gulls tend to be browner.


Slightly more distant shot and from behind but showing the tail and wing pattern nicely.


Another flight shot where the inner primaries appear more subtle, perfectly in keeping with Yellow-legged.


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