Large Gull ID Help

The spreadsheet and details below are an attempt to identify the features for the Large White-headed Gulls that occur in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. It has data from a lot of sources (see reference list and links at end of page) including information sent to me by Tommy Pedersen from the UEA. It is mainly an attempt to gather all the data possible on gulls in the Saudi Arabian area and put it in a single place for easy reference - and is a work in progress and any advice or similar to improve / correct the data is very welcome. Thanks to JanJ and seawatcheruk for corrections to some of the information mentioned here.

The Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia is situated to the west of the Arabian Gulf, with this region of the country being a good place to see large white-headed gulls that breed in western Asia (mainly the republics of the former USSR) and eastern Scandinavia. From mid-August the first gulls can be found along the coast in small numbers gradually increasing in numbers as the winter progresses. The first arriving birds are mainly Steppe Gull Larus barabensis, with a few Armenian Gull Larus armenicus and during the wintering months over 75% of the large white-headed gulls are barabensis. These birds mainly occur along the coastline of Tarut Bay between Dammam and Al Khobar although a few also occur in Half Moon Bay. The birds join the Slender-billed Gull Chroicocephalus genei already present and as winter progresses 1000s of Black-headed Gulls, Larus ridibundus and a few Great Black-headed Gulls Larus ichthyaetus also occur.

Taxonomic treatment

Initially, before 1970, only two common species of large white-headed gull were recognised in Saudi Arabia, Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus and Herring Gull L. argentatus, following Vaurie (1965) and Hüe & Etchécopar (1970), two of the principal reference works in use in the Middle East at that time. These authors restricted Lesser Black-backed Gull to the two very dark mantled forms breeding in Europe, nominate fuscus and graellsii, and included all the paler mantled west Asian forms, including armenicus, cachinnans, heuglini and taimyrensis, in the Herring Gull (argentatus) complex (Scott 2007). The publication of Birds of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia (Bundy et al 1989) also used a simplistic approach to the Large White-headed Gull complex. By 2002 Armenian Gull armenicus and Caspian Gull cachinnans were recorded as separate species and Heuglin’s Gull heuglini the weakly defined taimyrensis and Steppe Gull barabensis were included in Lesser Black-backed Gull L. fuscus along with the nominate Baltic Gull fuscus. In 2007 (G. Sangster et al), suggested the following species, to better reflect recent advances in knowledge of the evolution and systematics of large gulls. These were recognized by British Birds (UK):
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus (polytypic, including fuscus, intermedius, graellsii, heuglini, taimyrensis, barabensis)
Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans (monotypic)
Armenian Gull Larus armenicus (monotypic)
American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus (polytypic, including smithsonianus, vegae, mongolicus)
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis (polytypic, including michahellis, atlantis)
Herring Gull Larus argentatus (polytypic, including argentatus, argenteus)

From this point onwards it became clear that five large white-headed Gull types were identifiable with caution in Saudi Arabia (see note below on variation in gulls).
Steppe Gull Larus barabensis whose breeding range is western Siberia - Steppes of north Kazakhstan
Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans whose breeding range is the Black Sea, Caspian Sea and Aral Sea
Heuglin’s Gull Larus heuglini whose breeding range is the northern Russian tundra from Kola Peninsula to west of the Yenisey River
Armenian Gull Larus armenicus whose breeding range is the inland lakes of Armenia, Georgia, eastern Turkey and northwest Iran
Baltic Gull Larus fuscus whose breeding range is the Baltic and north Norway coasts to the White Sea

Only three currently recognised species are present in Saudi Arabia in the winter months, and these are:-
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus (including Baltic Gull Larus fuscus, Steppe Gull Larus barabensis & Heuglin’s Gull Larus heuglini)
Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans
Armenian Gull Larus armenicus

Heuglin's Gull (adult) left, and Armenian Gull (adult) centre & right

The classification used here adopts 2cy, 3cy, sub-adult and adult. Note that from January onwards, a "first” winter gull is in its second calendar year (2cy).
Primaries are numbered outwardly, with the inner primary being P1 and the outer primary P10.
The species/taxa order below corresponds with the status of the birds in Saudi Arabia with commonest first and scarcest last. (A taxon is a taxonomic category or group, such as family, genus, or species).
Gulls show much variation in size, colour, moult and other key identification features and as a result a wise birdwatcher will leave many gulls as unidentified eg Larus sp, armenicus ‘type’, putative armenicus or tentative armenicus

Taxa Occurring in Saudi Arabia

Steppe Gull Larus barabensis

Steppe Gull (adult winter) - Al Khobar, 30 November 2012

Steppe Gull (adult winter) - Abqaiq Landfill, 11 January 2013

Over 75% of the white-headed gulls in Saudi Arabia belong to the taxon barabensis, which start arriving in mid-August onwards as they leave their steppe breeding grounds in August. In August the P10 tip should show an obvious dark tip to the white mirror. They are believed to be true migrants and probably follow the coast of the Caspian Sea, then cross northwest Iran to end in the Tigris valley on their way to the Arabian Gulf. Barabensis occur geographically between heuglini to the north, cachinnans to the west and mongolicus to the east and have a breeding range in the south-east Urals south to north Kazakhstan. They winter mainly in the Persian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia and Oman. As a result of their range it is not surprising they share features with both cachinnans, including structure and plumage, and heuglini, yellow leg colour prevalent in adults, plumage and rapid moult progression. They are, however, more lightly built and have a moult timing falling between cacninnans and heuglini (see moult timing diagramme) and have a bill pattern more suggestive of armenicus. They remain largely white-headed in winter which is a feature more of the southern taxa than the northern ones but are currently included with Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus (polytypic, including fuscus, intermedius, graellsii, heuglini, taimyrensis, barabensis).

  • Rather slender-looking and lightly built, though more heavily built individuals do occur
  • Lacks obvious tertial step
  • Slightly smaller than cacninnans
  • Stands in 45 degree posture slightly tilted forward
  • Head appears rather rounded-looking. Heuglini are larger with relatively more massive heads and bills and look ferocious
  • Very bright bare part colouration, espcially from February onwards
  • Very yellow legs, though sometimes greyih with pinkish legs also possible. Legs of cachinnans are often yellow but not as bright
  • Legs are sometimes shortish or squat-looking and moderately thin
  • Often long, straight, slender-looking bill with indistinct gonys which is less blunt tipped than cachinnans. Bill can smetimes appear quite short due to head shape
  • Bill often has four-coloured pattern, with red gonys, black sub-terminal markings and pale tip
  • Darkish-looking rather small eyes placed towrds the front of the head, although some pale eyed birds do occur
  • Thin red orbital ring
  • Darkish grey upperparts, Kodak Grey Scale 7 - 8.5, similar to armenicaus. Some have a brownish cast and others a bleish one
  • Clean and relective white underparts and head
  • Head streaking, if present, is normally confined to the nape and if often very faint
  • Extensive black in the primaries in flight with the nuumber of black marked primaries often reaching P3. P5 normally has a broad black band and P4 a black spot on the outer web
  • In flight less black on the wing-tip than armenicus with P10 having balck covering 30-50% of the feather. Much more pronounced pale tounges, which are often greyish not white, on outer wing, extending onto bases of P9-P10 (seen on P7-P5 in Israel)
  • Mirror on wing limited and normally only P10 but occasionally P9
  • In flight the underside of the flight feathers are gery against white coverts like armenicus and different from cachinnans
  • Often obtains a full new set of primaries by January/February, earlier than heuglini but later than cachinnans
  • 3cy birds are very adult like in upper-parts by March
Note: The full range of identification features between barabensis and eastern cachinnans as well as from paler Heuglin’s Gull ’taimyrensis’ is not fully understood.

UAE - it is a common to very common passage migrant and winter visitor.
Kuwait - Common passage migrant. Common winter visitor.
Bahrain – Passage migrant and winter visitor from August to mid-April
Oman – Abundant migrant and winter visitor
Israel – more common in autumn (mainly November), but occurs in winter and spring (September – March)

Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans
Caspian Gull (adult winter) - Abqaiq Landfill, 18 January 2013
Caspian Gull (adult winter) - Sharma Beach, 1 January 2021
Caspian Gull (adult winter) - Sharma Beach, 1 January 2021

Caspian Gull (3rd Calendar Year) - Sharma Beach, 1 January 2021
Caspian Gull (2nd Calendar Year) - Sabkhat Al Fasl, 24 May 2014 
Caspian Gull (2nd Calendar Year) - Sabkhat Al Fasl, 24 May 2014
Approximately 15% of the large white-headed gulls in Saudi Arabia are Caspian Gulls cachinnans, which breed along the eastern coastline of the Caspian Sea and probably eastwards. They join barabensis which travel through the breeding areas of cachinnans, on their migration south to the Gulf. Numbers of cachinnans in the Gulf region are relatively low although they may be overlooked due to their similarity to barabensis although another theory is that cachinnans is not such a strong migratory species and remains in the Caspian Sea area until it starts to get extremely cold and they are forced to move southwards. They then disperse to adjacent countries and only arrive in Saudi Arabia in mid-winter (November onwards?). Even in winter, cachinnans does not occur in large numbers in the Gulf. Probably they take a more westwards migration route to the Mediterranean to spend winter together with their counterparts from the Black Sea, ponticus. The specific identification of taxa within the cline of the Steppe Gull-complex remains difficult, although in August the primary moult of Caspian Gull has replaced 5 – 7 primaries with P10 showing a negligible dark tip.

There have been a number of claims of birds resembling the western subspecies of Larus cachinnans, i.e. ponticus, the same type that winter in NW Europe. In general, they are picked out easily from the widespread barabensis by their pale mantle colour but the problem is what are the exact differences between cachinnans and ponticus? ‘Ponticus’ is confined as a breeding species to the Black Sea and Rudenko (2006) has recently reviewed the ringing recoveries of ponticus ringed in the Crimea and has shown that the great majority of adults and most juveniles remain in the Black Sea throughout the year. Most of those birds that do migrate move southwest to the eastern Mediterranean (Romaina, Bulgaria, Turkey & Cyprus) or northwest towards the North Sea (Poland, Germany, Denmark & The Netherlands) and as a result of this data it seems unlikely that ponticus occurs with any regularity, if at all, in Saudi Arabia. Birds are back on their breeding grounds early around mid-February. Russian studies at the northeast side of the Caspian Sea, showed strong resemblance of nominate cachinnans with ponticus from the Black Sea. This study showed much similarity in measurements and upper-part coloration of nominate cachinnans and ponticus.
  • Slender with long primaries
  • Bill is long, slender andvery straight with parallel edges and a small and not very noticable gonys
  • Bill lacks strongly curved tip to the upper mandible and has long slit like nostril
  • Bill colour is normally greensih or greenish-yellow
  • Gonys spot is normally orange to red and rarely reaches the upper mandible, sometimes it is small or lacking andoccasionally hs dark markings
  • Legs are slender and pale yellow in adult (longer and thicker than in fuscus), sometimes pinkish
  • Eye is pale to dark, often dark in spring and generally looks dark at a distance
  • Orbital ring is orange (2-3% red)
  • Head shape is not as rounded as other LWHG and is more pear shapped with a long sloping forehead and angled hindneck
  • Head is generally white from November onwards and >95% are white-headed from January onwards
  • Size is quite large appraoching heulini, although some large males are larger than small female heuglini
  • Pale grey upperparts, Kodak Grey Scale (4)5 - 6.5, the paleset LWHG in Saudi Arabia
  • Very little black on the underwing, generaly showing white underside to flight feathers against white coverts (unlike armenicus or barabensis).
  • Black on primaries reaching P6 and often P5 where there can be a small black band, although this is often missing.
  • Long white to grey tongues on the primaries accentate the lack of black on the wingtip, showing the least amount of balck of any Saudi Arabian LWHG
  • Normally shows obvious mirrorS on P10 & P9 which are often white-tipped

UAE - it is an uncommon to locally fairly common passage migrant and winter visitor. Confusion with Steppe Gull evident.
Kuwait - Very common passage migrant. Very common winter visitor.
Bahrain – Passage migrant and winter visitor from August to April
Oman – Abundant migrant and winter visitor
Israel – Common in northern Israel from 1st week of December to late March

Heuglin’s Gull Larus Heuglini
Heuglin's Gull (adult winter) - Abqaiq Landfill, 11 January 2013
Heuglin's Gull (adult winter) - Al Khobar, 30 November 2012
Heuglin's Gull (sub-adult winter) - Abqaiq Landfill, 11 January 2013
Heuglin's Gull (juvenile) - Abqaiq Landfill, 11 December 2012
Heuglin's Gull (juvenile) - Jizan, 15 December 2017

Heuglini is not common in Saudi Arabia, with about 8% of all large white-headed gulls being this taxon. They can be identified by their more aggressive, fierce look and come from the far north compared to barabensis. Due to their far northern distribution the time juvenile birds are exposed to the desert climate is relatively short. This can be seen with the white notching on the juvenile wing-coverts and the feather tips in general being in better condition (less worn) and the brown parts being less bleached in 2cy heuglini than 2cy barabensis. Some 2cy heuglini appear to undergo a rapid moult, just after arrival on the wintering grounds, including scapulars, wing-coverts, often the tail and secondaries as well as some random primaries. In March many heuglini are shaggy headed, show neck spots and are still re-growing P10 so are rather different to barabensis.

Heuglini in adult plumage is not as jet-black as fuscus, but still a darker shade of grey than the widespread barabensisOn geographic grounds, anyone encountering birds with mid to dark grey upperparts in the Middle-East (birds paler than the fuscus but slightly darker than the barabensis that also winter in the region) can be reasonably confident with their identification as heuglini. The separation of immature heuglini from barabensis is far from clear and in many cases it is difficult to demonstrate conclusively that images of heuglini on the wintering grounds are not barabensis.
  • Large gull often bulky looking, although smaller slender birds do occur
  • Bill is strong, heavy and large with a prominent gonys
  • Bill is yellow with orange to red gonys spot not reaching the upper mandible
  • Bill occassionally shows dark markings at the tip, often on both mandibles, and has a narrow triangular nostril
  • Head shape has relatively steep forehead
  • Legs are long and thick, yellow coloured, although occasionally with fleshy tinge often on the feet
  • Eye is normally pale yellow with a red orbital ring, sometimes orange (5%)
  • Nape and back of the head are heavily streaked in winter often with brown spots or drops on the hind-neck. From January onwards nape becomes white or faintly streaked
  • Dark grey upperparts, Kodak Grey Scale 8 - 11, the darkest of all Saudi Arabian large gulls with the exception of fuscus
  • Black on primaries usually to P5 & P4 and sometimes to P3, showing medium amount of black on the wingtip for a Saudi Arabian LWHG
  • Normally shows a large white mirror on P10 & often a smaller mirror on P9
  • Clear contrast between black of wingtips and rest of upperparts.
UAE - it is a common or locally common passage migrant and winter visitor; absent June - August.
Kuwait - Common passage migrant. Common winter visitor.
Bahrain – Passage migrant and winter visitor from August to end of April
Oman – Abundant migrant and winter visitor
Israel – Main wintering population arrives November to mid-March. Migrants arrive late September

Armenian Gull Larus armenicus
Armenian Gull (adult winter) - Al Khobar, 30 November 2012
Armenian Gull (adult winter) - Al Uqayr, 9 January 2022
Armenian Gull (adult winter) - Al Uqayr, 9 January 2022

Less than 1% of the large white-headed gulls in Saudi Arabia are Armenian Gull Larus armenicus and can be seen in Saudi Arabia from early September onwards. This number may be an over exaggeration as the species is rarely recorded Saudi Arabia and winters mainly in the eastern Mediterranean with some spreading to northern Red Sea. It is a common gull in Israel and birds are regularly seen in Kuwait each winter

  • Bill is rather short, slim and relatively small with a triangular nostril that is broad at the front and narrow at the rear
  • Bill bright yellow with black sub-terminal bar on both mandibles often obsuring the red gonys spot
  • Typical birds show a four coloured bill with black band and white tip n winter
  • Legs are pink in 1st year and yellow to greenish in adult
  • Eye is mainly dark although a few have a pale eye to some extent
  • Head is rounded in shape with a steep forehead and narrow brown streaks, coarser and darker on hindneck and breast sides
  • Head often white from March onwards
  • 1st year head is pale in winter with dark marks around the eye and on the ear coverts
  • Dark grey upperparts, Kodak Grey Scale 7 - 8.5, like barabensis in colour
  • Black on primaries to P5 & P4 (90%) although some have black on P3 (10%). Shows extensive black on wing tip with P10 having balck covering >90% of the feather.
  • Normally shows only an obvious mirror on P10 although some can have mirror on P9 also

Kuwait - Scarce winter visitor
Bahrain - Scarce passage migrant and winter visitor from August to May
Israel – commonest gull seen year round but larger numbers in winter
UAE – No confirmed records

Baltic Gull Larus Fuscus

Ringed (CC5P) Baltic Gull (second calendar year) from Finland on Jizan Corniche - 8 July 2017

Baltic Gull (adult) - 7 April 2012
Photograph kind permission of Rob Tovey
This bird has a black colour ring on its right leg & metal ring on left leg indicating it comes from Norway or Finland
Baltic Gull - Jizan Corniche, 15 December 2017
Baltic Gull - Jizan Corniche, 15 December 2017
Baltic Gull - Jizan Corniche, 7 July 2013

Approximately 1% of the large white-headed gulls in Saudi Arabia are fuscus and they are seen infrequently. Identification of both fuscus and heuglini can be initiated by their mantle colour with fuscus the smallest and darkest species, with almost black upper-parts in 3cy to adult plumage and a long winged appearance. From late February to early March, 2cy can be identified on structure and on the second-generation scapulars & often also wing-coverts, which are normally plain blackish grey with a black shaft-streak. Fucus in 3cy is very adult-like and appears jet-black on the upper-parts as well. The classic view of adult fuscus is of a small blackish bird with only one white primary mirror and they can be extremely striking. Bill size and shape are rather variable and because of the rather small head, the bill on some birds can actually look disproportionately large. Fuscus is a true long-distance migrant with Radio-tagged birds tracked from the breeding grounds on a nonstop flight to the Black Sea. They stayed there for about two weeks, offshore in the centre of the Sea, after which they moved further south to southern Sudan, Kenya and the Victoria Lake district to spend the winter. Chris Gibbins (2004) concluded that the projection of the primaries beyond the tail is appreciably greater than the length of the tarsus (measured from the centre of the knee joint to the ground on a standing bird; best done from photographs). The average ratio of primary projection to tarsus length, measured from photographs of 15 birds, was 1.3:1 (min ratio was 1:1, max was 1.37:1). Thus, in fuscus the primary projection beyond the tail is typically 1.3 times the tarsus length. Of course it is important to stress that assessment of wing length should be avoided on birds moulting their outermost primaries and those individuals whose primaries are excessively worn.

Baltic Gull (second calendar year) Jizan Corniche - 8 July 2017
Any blackish bird with an unstreaked head, little or no covert moult and a full set of primaries (or with only P1-2 dropped) in September or later is a strong fuscus candidate. On an individual bird, once moult has commenced it tends to occur in parallel in different feather tracts. Thus, the extent of head streaking, the extent of covert moult and the stage of primary moult are directly correlated; i.e. no wing moult also probably means a white(r) head.

  • Small size, the smallest of the LWHG in Saudi Arabia
  • Bill is long and straight and rather thin with small unnoticable gonys
  • Legs are very short and moderately thin
  • The primary projection beond the tail is typically 1.3 times the tarsus length
  • Elongated rear end that looks slender
  • Eye is pale in adults with red orbital ring
  • Head is gentle looking but not rounded with a noticable slope to the forehead
  • Nape and head can be heavily streaked
  • Dark coal black upperparts, Kodak Grey Scale 13 - 17, the darkest of the LWHG in Saudi Arabia
  • The black on the primaries do not usually contrast with the rest of the upperwing
  • Totally dark secondaries, all underwing remiges are dark
  • Normally shows a white mirror on P10
  • 1st cy birds have a dark head, body, wings and mantle at rest
  • 1st cy birds mantle and coverts are dark centred with thin white margins
  • 1st cy birds have a dark body, underwing coverts and primaries in flight
  • Moults later with active moult in Febrary and March.

UAE - it is a rare passage migrant, September to October and February to April; rarely other months.
Kuwait - Common passage migrant. Common winter visitor.
Bahrain – Passage migrant and winter visitor
Oman – Rare migrant and winter visitor
Israel – second commonest gull after armenicus, especially on migration in autumn (August) and spring (until late May). Also winters

Baltic Gull - Sabkhat Al Fasl, Jubail, Eastern Province, 11 September 2023

Baltic Gull - Sabkhat Al Fasl, Jubail, Eastern Province, 11 September 2023

Other Taxa

Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis
Yellow-legged Gull (adult) - 23 January 2012
Photograph kind permission of AbdulRahman Al-Sirhan

Yellow-legged Gull (2nd calendar year) - 1 January 2012
Photograph kind permission of AbdulRahman Al-Sirhan

There have been no definite records of michahellis, which breeds in the Mediterranean, in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia although there are old records of Yellow-legged Gull as cachinnans was part of the Yellow-legged Gull complex at one time. AbdulRahman Al-Sirhan identified two birds near Tabuk and Yanbu on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. These are the first properly documented records of the species for Saudi Arabia as far as I am aware.

Mongolian Gull Larus (vega) mongolicus

There have been no records of mongolicus, in Saudi Arabia which is not surprising as they breed in the central Asian Steppe region and normally winter in eastern Asia, many in Korea and Japan. The Bird Ringing Centre of Russia has many recoveries of mongolicus, ringed by Sergey Pyzhyanov and co-workers at Lake Baikal. Many recov­eries are from coastal areas around the Yellow Sea, five birds were recovered from the direct surround­ings of the Sea of Okhotsk, and some others were from sites in a direction towards the Sea of Okhotsk. These recoveries and recent observations in south­ern Korea of nine wing-tagged mongolicus from breeding colonies in north-eastern Mongolia confirm that mongolicus is a common visitor to coastal areas in China and Korea during the non-breeding season (contra Collinson et al (2008), but in support of Moores (2003) and Moores et al (2009)). No ringed mongolicus have been recovered from Hong Kong and surroundings, with the nearest recovery 350 km north-east of Hong Kong. The lack of recoveries from coastal areas around the South China Sea fits with findings of Kennerley et al (1995) that mongolicus is a scarce visitor to Hong Kong, outnumbered by taimyrensis by more than 20:1.It has been claimed in Pakistan by Roberts (1991) who relied only on bare-part coloration, a character of little or no diagnostic value in this case (Yésou & Hirschfeld 1997). Therefore, the occurrence of mongolicus in western Asia remains undocumented.

Taimyr Gull Larus taimyrensis

Yèsou (2002) uses the marked variability of taimyrensis to argue that it does not exist as a taxon. To summarise his argument, Yèsou suggests that taimyrensis’ comprises either birds from a hybrid zone between western heuglini and Vega Gull L. vegae (as argued by earlier workers), or yellow-legged individuals that were identified as taimyrensis but were actually either pure vegae or pure heuglini. This means that taimyrensis has no taxonomic validity.

There have been no confirmed records of taimyrensis in Saudi Arabia. Adult Larus taimyrensis generally resemble Herring Gull Larus argenta­tus in size and shape. The upper-parts coloration is darker than in argenta­tus breeding in the Netherlands, being more similar to Yellow-legged Gulls Larus michahellis breeding in the Mediterranean. The legs are short to medium in length and rather stout. Most individual’s exhibit dull yellows legs but variation is extensive, legs being pink or grey­ish in some individuals. The iris is pale yellow or ochre, with a variable amount of dark speckling. The orbital ring and gape are usually orange-red. The bill is relatively short, firm and rather blunt with a weak gonydeal angle and with an extensive red gonys spot restricted to the lower mandible. The wing pattern usually shows an isolated mirror in a largely black p10, relatively small apical spots to the outer primaries and dark markings extend­ing to p4. Ring recoveries indicate that taimyrensis spend the winter in coastal areas in the north-western Pacific and that they cross the mainland of Asia in a south-easterly direction when migrat­ing from the breeding grounds towards the wintering areas. As a result they appear unlikely to occur in the Arabia Gulf region, although this cannot be entirely ruled out. Larus taimyrensis is considered a typical autumn and spring migrant in coastal waters around Korea, arriving in late September or early October, with a peak in October and in early November, and peaking again in March-April. Nial Moores stated that taimyrensis is a rather pelagic gull, feeding in large unmixed flocks around fishing boats in Korean waters of the Yellow Sea in March-April and also indicated that the majority do not spend the winter in Korea but in areas further south. Taimyr Gull taimyrensis is by far the most numerous large white-headed gull wintering in Hong Kong, usually present between late October and late March. There are indications, but no ring recoveries, that taimyrensis might predominantly winter in a quite mild envi­ronment, most likely in coast­al areas of the East China Sea and the South China Sea. More observations of birds marked on Taimyr and more insight in the winter ecology are needed to establish its core winter range and to get a better picture of the migration route. Furthermore, observations of marked birds are necessary to clarify if Taimyr Gulls also spend the winter in coastal areas around the Arabian Sea, or elsewhere along a south-westerly flyway. Recent sourc­es indicate that gulls resem­bling Taimyr Gulls spend the winter in low numbers in southern Iran (Scott 2007) and Bahrain (Yésou & Hirschfeld 1997). The term "Big Pale heuglini" refers to the small number of birds seen in Bahrain (and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region) that used to be considered to be taimyrensis. Compared to the normal Bahrain heuglini these birds are generally paler, larger, longer-legged, show more flesh tones in the legs, have longer bills and more angular heads, and perhaps average a larger P10 mirror and more often have a small P9 mirror. There is a possibility that a small number of uni­dentified large white-headed gulls seen at Okha, western India, described and depicted in Buchheim (2006) may also be taimyrensis.

  • Similar size to heuglini but generally larger and paler.
  • Neat and fairly compact, but does not have an especially slender structure
  • Head lacking long forehead and rounded in shape with flatter forehead
  • Pale slate grey upperparts, Kodak Grey Scale 6 - 8, without any brownish cast
  • Legs bright yellow to greyish-yellow, sometimes fleshy or pinkish
  • Pale eyes with red orbital ring
  • Orangy-yellow bill with red gonys spot often bleeding uo to upper mandible, with no obvious dark markings or pale tip
  • Shortish bill not especially slender or parallel-sided with weak gonydeal angle
  • Head in winter has distinct brown streaks, densest and broadest on the ear-coverts and hind-neck, where it can form a necklace. Streaking can cover the whole head and sometimes breast sides
  • Black on primaries usually to P5 & P4 and sometimes P3
  • Obvious mirror on P10 with mirror normally on inner web only of P9 on 25% of birds, with limited solid black on the spread wing.
UAE - all reports of L. f. taimyrensis are unsubstantiated.
Israel – no records

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Buchheim, A 2006. Adult large white-headed gulls at Okha. Birding Asia 5: 40-53.
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Moores, N 2003. A consideration of the Herring Gull as­semblage in South Korea. Website:
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Moores, N, Park J & Kim, A. 2009. The Birds Korea check­list 2009. Busan.
Pedersen, T & Aspinall, SJ (comp.) 2011. EBRC Annotated Checklist of the birds of the United Arab Emirates. EAD, Abu Dhabi.
Rudenko A.G. Migration of Pontic Gulls Larus cachinnans form ‘ponticus’ ringed in the south of
Ukraine: a review of recoveries from 1929 to 2003. In: Boere, G.C. et al (eds.) 2006. Waterbirds
Around the World. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, U.K.
Sangster, G, Collinson, J.M, Knox, A.G, Parkin, D.T. & Svensson, L.  2007. Taxonomic recommendations for British Birds: fourth report. Ibis 149: 853-857.
Scott, D.A. 2007. Short Communication (A Note on Large White-headed Gulls in Iran). Podoces 2(2):
Van Dijk, K, Kharitonov, S, Vonk, H & Ebbinge, B. 2011. Taimyr Gulls: evidence for Pacific winter range with notes on morphology and breeding. Dutch Birding 33(1): 9-21 pdf of paper available here
Vaurie, C 1965. The birds of the Palearctic fauna. A systematic reference. Non-Passeriforms. London.
Yesou, P & Hirschfeld, E. 1997. Which large gulls from the Larus fuscus-cachinnans-argentatus complex of (sub)species occur in Bahrain? Sandgrouse 19(2): 111-121.
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Some other help is here (click on each link to open):
Gull Research Organisation
Taimyr Gull on breeding grounds