Monday, 25 July 2016

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull

The annual arrival of juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls in to the UK was later than usual this year, and I have been even further behind.  For a couple of weeks small numbers have been seen along the south coast of Devon, but for me whenever I've had chance to look at gull flocks I've drawn a blank.  Thankfully though I broke my duck in style this morning with an absolute brute of a bird on Seaton Beach at 8am...

Just look at that!  Such a bruiser it looked almost Great Black-backed Gull-like at times!

An especially big billed individual!

Right in the middle of the shot, look how pale headed it looked compared to the juv Herring Gulls to the right.

Sadly I managed to completely fluff the flight shot, but it still shows the tail well - neat black trailing edge to a mostly white tail.

And hopefully these pointers will help the non-larid lovers among my readers to understand why this is identifiable as a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull...

Yellow-legged Gull (YLG) to the left, Herring Gull (HG) to the right.

1 - Bill size and shape is vastly different, especially with this brute of a YLG!

2 - YLG shows a much squarer head with a much paler ground colour which gives them a masked appearance around the eye. Be careful as you do get paler HG, which is why I can't stress enough how important it is to use more than one feature to ID a juv YLG.

3 - The scapulars, coverts and mantle feathers have narrower paler edges on YLG with HG showing more notching too. I often find the centers of these feathers browner in YLG and blacker in HG.

4 - Both species have mostly solidly dark tertials, but HG show more pale notching and barring around the edges, whereas YLG tend to have neat and narrow pale edges with fewer or no notches.

Although there are more differences (especially in flight, look at that flight shot again), I'd say these four points along with overall size (YLG being larger and longer winged than HG with longer paler legs) are the most striking features when I come across a settled juvenile YLG.

I hope you have found this useful and good luck in finding your own :-)


  1. Brilliant info! Frank Gardiner aka Eggy

    1. Hi Eggy, glad you have found it useful! All the best, Steve

  2. Good posting - some great tips Steve, but my guess is its the usual observers that will be picking them out again and again. One other useful feature are those lovely long, pale pink legs (only really relevant in July (juv Herring Gulls soon change to pink too). Now that the first lesser-black Backed juvs have arrived on my patch 23rd July my first, it gets trickier.. In this case size is important!

    1. Hi Mike, yes quite agree LBBG can prove more of an ID problem than juv Herrings. Hopefully though this post will encourage some more observers to start looking closely at juvenile gulls. I do find YLG most obvious early in the season as most juv Herrings are pretty dark, I find these become paler fairly quickly as late summer turns into autumn. Best wishes, Steve.