Sighting: Black Headed Gull (first winter)

My blog has been rather neglected in recent weeks, with lots of half written adventures and a pile of unedited photos still waiting to be looked at. Today I resisted the urge to head out under yet another brilliant blue sky and instead finally sort through several weeks of accumulated images…

It was back at the very start of spring, when a winter chill was still very much in the air that I photographed this beautiful young black headed gull in the harbour here in Aberystwyth.

A young black headed gull on the ground

A regular sight during the winter months these gulls are quite different from the all too familiar herring gulls. These birds are a much smaller, more delicate species with a distinctive shrill call, often found in large, noisy flocks.

Emitting it’s distinctive screeching call

Their name is somewhat misleading as the adult gulls only display their distinctive black head cap (actually more of a chocolate brown) during the summer breeding season, with this fading during the winter to just a small black dot behind the eye.

Adult black headed gull in winter (non-breeding) plumage

The immature gulls also share this telltale black smudge, but they are otherwise quite different from the predominantly bright white, red legged adults and won’t look like their parents until they reach two years old.

First winter gull close up

This individual was in it’s first winter plumage with an orange bill and legs, distinctive black edges to the tail and a mix of mottled brown and grey feathers on the wings. (The brown patch on the underside here is just from the muddy water it had been resting in).

First winter black headed gull, in flight
Touching down on the water
Lift off!

I have always found these particular gulls to be very photogenic, and they are often rather bold and easy to approach allowing for some lovely closeups with little disturbance.

Showing off the mottled brown feathers on the wing

The black headed gull is found throughout the UK and is actually more of an inland than coastal specialist often gathering in large groups on lakes and rivers in the heart of towns and cities. Like the herring gull, it is also an opportunist and not above scavenging from our leftovers.

Gull and it’s reflection
Scavenging our scraps

Just last week I caught up with another of these charming gulls, this time an adult. With spring now well underway this individual was just beginning to transition to breeding plumage.

Black headed gull transitioning to summer breeding plumage

All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography © 2021

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