Status: Resident along all Irish coasts, with significant numbers arriving from the Continent in winter. Breeds in small numbers on islands in larger lakes in western Ireland.
Conservation Concern: Red-listed due to its rapidly declining and localised breeding population. The European population is regarded as Secure, despite declines in several countries.
Identification: A small gull, slightly smaller than Common Gull. Adults are pale grey above and white below. Adults are easily told apart from other common gull species by the thick white leading edge to outer wing, which can be seen at some distance. A blackish area bordering the white leading edge of the underwing is also evident. Pointed wings, and a small tail and head in proportion to the body, along with a long neck give a distinctive profile compared to other gulls. Adults have red legs, and in summer plumage, a dark brown hood on the head; in the winter, the hood in absent and is replaced by a dark spot behind the eye. Black-headed Gulls have two age groups, and attains adult plumage after one year when it moults into adult winter plumage. Young birds just out of the nest are called juveniles and are finely patterned on the upperparts in ginger and brown and show a black tail band. First winter and first summer birds retain the wing and tail markings of the juvenile bird, but show grey on the mantle and in the first summer, a hood with a variable amount of white mixed in with the brown. Just after the bird is one year old it moults into adult winter plumage.
Similar Species: Mediterranean and Common Gulls, Kittiwake.
Call: Strident, down slurred call. Can be very noisy at colonies.
Diet: Feeds on insects especially in arable fields. Will also exploit domestic and fisheries waste.
Breeding: Breeds both on the coast and inland where they will often nest in colonies. Usually, nests on the ground in wetland areas, such as bogs and marshes and will also use man made lakes. Numbers breeding inland have declined dramatically, probably due to predation by the American Mink, which is an able swimmer and is able to access previously inaccessible nesting areas. The largest colonies in Ireland are in Northern Ireland on Lough Neagh. Colonies in the republic are not widespread, the largest are found inland in Counties Galway, Monaghan and Mayo. and at coastal sites in Counties Wexford and Donegal.
Wintering: Irish birds are augmented by wintering birds from northern and eastern Europe and can are widespread on both on the coast and inland.
Where to See: An easy species to see, especially in the winter. Can be seen on ploughed fields and in towns and cities.
Monitored by: Wintering birds are monitored through the Irish Wetland Bird Survey. Breeding seabirds are monitored through surveys carried out every 15-20 years, the last was Seabird 2000, which was undertaken between 1998 & 2002.