The Yellow-legged Gull – A Constant Presence In The Mediterranean

The Yellow-legged Gull – A Constant Presence In The Mediterranean

It’s a gregarious species throughout the year, including the reproductive period, when it gathers in reproductive colonies. It’s observed in numerous flocks especially in winter, even in the countryside and near food sources such as urban waste dumps. The yellow-legged gull is a good flier, and uses its ability to prey on other species of birds, including their own kind, forcing them to give up their food: a behavior defined as “kleptoparasitism”. Although it doesn’t have the characteristics of a predator, it feeds on the eggs and nestlings of other birds and also manages to catch city pigeons. In this regard, it is not uncommon to spot it even in urban centers, where it can find food in abundance, in particular at waste deposits and landfills.

Everything you need to know about the yellow-legged gull:

The yellow-legged gull is a medium-large bird: it reaches a length of 55-65 centimeters, with a wingspan that can extend to 150 centimeters, weighing 1.25 kg. Both sexes have a basically the same appearance: heads and bodies are white, a light shade of grey on the back and on the wings with few clear spots on the black wings’ tips. As the name suggest, the legs and the beak are yellow, while a thin red circle can be observed around the eyes There is a thin red ring around the eye, while the beak and legs are yellow. Juveniles show a white base color, but thickly dotted with brown. Only from the fourth winter does the livery take on the definitive appearance of the adult.

Yellow-legged gull in flight

For some time considered a separate species – previously it was considered conspecific of L. argentatus and L. cachinnans – the yellow-legged gull is present with the nominal subspecies L. m. michahellis in Italy, Portugal, Atlantic France, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The subspecies L. m. atlantis frequents the Azores, the island of Madeira and the Canaries, probably going as far as the coasts of Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula.

Since many decades, yellow-legged gulls have learned how to find food in the garbage bins of our cities and recycling stations. Although its main source of food is represented by fish, carcasses and sometimes even rats, among its prey there are also other birds, which they hunt in flight or directly in their nests. It nests on the ground on sandbanks, islets and also on artefacts, in particular on the roofs in the cities, where it finds large quantities of food and the absence of predators. It lays two or three eggs, brooded for about a month, while the chicks leave the nest about 40 days after hatching: peculiar to the species is the red spot present in the lower part of the beak, near the tip, which serves as a reference to the chicks to ask for food from adults during weaning.

  • Scientific name: Larus michahellis.
  • Weight: 800 – 1500 g.
  • Length: 52 – 58 cm.
  • Wingspan: 120 – 140 cm.
  • Diet: Fish, insects, birds, carcasses, garbage and worms.
  • Habitat: Agricultural and urban areas, lakes, waterways and wet areas.
  • Threats: Disturbance caused by tourists, predation of the nests by mammals such as stray dogs, foxes and rats. The species is also exposed to contamination by heavy metals and chlorinated hydrocarbons, and there is a high mortality of individuals due to the ingestion of toxic substances. The destruction and transformation of reproductive habitats due to coastal urbanization is also threatening.

1. Aspects

The color is white with grey back and upper part of the wing and black wing tip. The legs and beak are yellow, the latter features a red part under the terminal part. Yellow legs. The juveniles have a mottled brown livery which becomes progressively more grey until the adult livery is assumed in their third year.

Yellow-legged gull aspects

2. Distribution

The yellow-legged gull is a widespread species along the Atlantic coasts of France and the Iberian Peninsula, the Azores Islands, Madeira, the countries of the Mediterranean basin and the Black Sea. It’s characterized by both sedentary and migratory or erratic populations. It can be confused with the northern herring gull (Larus argentatus) with which it coexists in some reproductive areas and with the Caspian gull (Larus cachinnans).

Yellow-legged gull distribution

3. Diet

Like all gulls, the Larus michahellis also has a very wide and varied diet: they feed on fish, mollusks, crustaceans, polychaete, echinoderms, human food waste, rats, worms or dead animals. They can be observed scratching waste from the bins. They are discreet predators and can catch smaller birds such as swifts, starlings, and pigeons in flight, they can also hunt eggs and chicks from other nests. This gull doesn’t dive, instead it hunts what floats on the water. Only on rare occasions does it dive to shallow depths. It often steals prey caught by other seabirds.

Yellow-legged gull diet

4. Breeding

It’s essentially colonial species, it can sometimes nest in isolated pairs. The density of nests in colonies can reach values ​​of 10 nests / 100m2. The area around the nest is defended by the other individuals, especially by the male ones. The time for deposition is from late March to early May. The nest is placed on a rock or on the ground, usually with little material and sometimes with the eggs laid on the bare ground. On riverbanks the nests are built by accumulating branches a few decimeters long and placed on the ground near the vegetation. 2-3 spotted eggs of variable color are laid. The incubation, performed by both parents, lasts 27-31 days. The young, precocious, become independent at about 40 days.

Yellow-legged gull breeding

5. Conservation

The species currently shows a good state of conservation, such as not to require particular protective measures. the population it’s increasing and is therefore considered a safe species throughout Europe. This increase can be explained by the greater availability of food resources from men, and the colonization of new environments – in particular the urban one – has allowed the species to reproduce in conditions with reduced predatory pressure, favoring its further expansion.

Yellow-legged gull conservation

This progressive colonization of cities brings about considerable problems of “coexistence” with humans, especially when the species is present in urban areas with concentrations such as to cause disturbance in terms of noise, dirt and aggression towards other species. An excessive presence of the yellow-legged gull can have a strong impact on ecosystems and biodiversity, due to the disturbance and predation it exerts on other bird species and their nests.

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