The smallest of the gulls, the Little Gull has a short, narrow bill, red legs, and a short tail. In breeding plumage, the adult has a dark hood with a black eye and bill. Non-breeding plumage is similar, but the head is white, smudged with black, with a black ear-spot behind the eye. The body coloration is typical of gull plumage from above, but both breeding and non-breeding adults have dark underwings with pale wingtips, which are distinctive in flight. Juveniles are mottled dark brown, mixed with varying degrees of adult plumage characteristics. In flight, juveniles have a dark ‘W’ across the underwing.
Lone Little Gulls are often found amidst flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls and terns. They often forage in flight, flying slowly low over the water and dropping down to pluck items from the surface. They also land on the water and feed from a swimming or wading position
Breeding habitat is mostly inland around low-lying marshy areas near lakes. Winter habitat is along coasts in protected shallow estuaries, mudflats, and beaches, and nearby fresh water lakes.
Larus minutus breeds mainly in north-east Europe, which accounts for less than half
of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is relatively small
(How the Little Gull ended up in North America is unknown. Some argue that it has always occurred here in small numbers. Others claim that it colonized by way of the Bering Sea. A third theory is that Little Gulls came across the Atlantic. The first known record of a Little Gull in North America is from 1820, and the first nesting record is from 1962. As of 1999, there had been only 67 confirmed or probable nesting reports documented in North America. Most of these were in wetlands in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River regions. The first appearance in Washington was in the fall of 1974. It has now been recorded up and down the West Coast throughout the year. The nesting population in North America may not be self-sustaining, and is supplemented by an influx of European vagrants.
In the summer, small insects make up the majority of the diet. Small crustaceans, mollusks, small fish, and other aquatic creatures round out the diet the rest of the year.
This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 1,000,000-10,000,000 km². It has a large global population estimated to be 570,000-1,700,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2002). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from birdlife.org]
A primarily Eurasian species, where they breed in colonies, Little Gulls in North America usually nest in small colonies or isolated pairs. Nests are on the ground, near water. Both sexes help build a nest of grass, weeds, and leaves with a shallow depression in the middle. Both help incubate the 2 to 3 eggs for about 3½ weeks. Both parents help tend the young, which leave the nest shortly after hatching, but stay close by. Three to four weeks later, they fledge.
Migratory, but details of movements and even of wintering areas inadequately known. Not scarce inland on passage, but winters essentially offshore (though not truly pelagic): on western seaboard from Irish Sea and North Sea southwards, in Mediterranean, to lesser extent on Black Sea, and on southern Caspian. Occurs also on Atlantic coast of Morocco, and in small numbers on eastern coast of North America.
- spanwidth min.: 58 cm
- spanwidth max.: 62 cm
- size min.: 25 cm
- size max.: 28 cm
- incubation min.: 23 days
- incubation max.: 25 days
- fledging min.: 21 days
- fledging max.: 24 days
- broods 1
- eggs min.: 2
- eggs max.: 3
- Conservation Status
- Rhodostethia minutus
- Hydrocoloeus minutus
- EU, NA c