Little gull

   ›      ›   Little gull - Hydrocoloeus minutus

The little gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) belongs to the family of gulls, terns and skimmers, Laridae.

The little gull species are distributed in Europe, west and central Asia, Middle East, eastern Asia and North America. These birds are the smallest gull species, with a length of only 25 to 30 cm. These gulls are monotypic species.

Overview & Quick Facts Description & Identification
Pictures of Little Gull Distribution & Range
Ecosystem & Habitat Diet & Feeding Behavior
Breeding Habits Migration & Movement Patterns
Conservation & Survival IUCN Status
Taxonomy & Classification Bird World

Little gull - Overview

  • Scientific name: Hydrocoloeus minutus
  • Species author: (Pallas, 1776)
  • Synonyms/Protonym: Larus minutus Pallas, 1776
  • Family: Laridae › Charadriiformes › Aves › Chordata › Animalia
  • Vernacular names: English: Little gull, Chinese: 小鸥, French: Mouette pygmée, German: Zwergmöwe, Spanish: Gaviota enana, Russian: Малая чайка, Japanese: ヒメカモメ, Thai: nók naaŋ-nuan lék
  • Other names: Little Gull
  • Distribution: North America, Europe, west and central Asia, Middle East, eastern Asia
  • Diet and feeding habits: invertebrates
  • IUCN status listing: Least Concern (LC)

Appearance, physical description and identification

The little gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) is the smallest gull, measuring 25 to 30 cm length and weighing 90 to 160 grams. The wingspan is 70 to 80 cm.

These little gull adults have different plumage for summer and winter. They reach maturity in the third year. Their call is a short, hard, nasal "kek" sound and rhythmic "kay-ke-kay-ke-kay-ke" sound.

Summer adult:
The summer adult little gull has a full black hood covering the head, crown, face, chin and upper throat. The underwings are blackish and the upperwings are pale gray. There is often pink flush to the underparts. The tail is white.

While resting, the opposite dark underwing is visible at the tip of folded wings. The wing tips and the tip of the wing feathers are white. The bill is small and dark. The irises and eye ring are black. The legs are red in breeding little gull.

Winter adult:
In winter, the adult little gull loses the black hood. It has dark gray crown and a small black cheek spot. The upper wing is gray. The underwing is darker with grayish front and blackish rear half.

The white trailing edge also forms wing-tip. The small bill is black. The irises and eye ring are black. There is a black spot behind the eyes. The legs are dark pink in wintering little gull.

The juvenile little gull has black outer primaries and black mid-wing panel making "W" pattern across two wings. This pattern is retained through the first year.

The secondaries of the juvenile little gull are dark in the center. The crown is blackish. There is a large cheek spot. The mantle is blackish, but gives scaly appearance due to the white fringes of the feathers.

First winter subadult
The wings of little gull at this stage have pied look. The underwings are pale. They retain the dark "W" pattern on upperwings from the juvenile stage. There is a dark patch where the wings meet the body.

The crown is lighter than the juvenile little gull and has a dark center. The mantle is gray. There is a black spot behind the eyes. There is a black shoulder bar. The wing-tips are dark. The legs are pink.

First summer subadult
Some subadult little gulls may develop black hood partially. The underwings are gray. There may be pinkish tinge to breast and belly. The "W" pattern appears worn. The tail gradually becomes white and the tail band appears worn. The legs are orange.

Second winter subadult
The little gull at this stage has dark crown and dark cheek spot. The upperwings are gray with black markings on the wing-tip. There is blackish band along primaries and secondaries. The bill is small, thin and black.
Indian birds - Picture of Little gull - Hydrocoloeus minutus
1.Birds of India _ Image of Little gull - Hydrocoloeus minutus by Andrej Chudý

Birds of India - Photo of Little gull - Hydrocoloeus minutus
2.Indian birds - Picture of Little gull - Hydrocoloeus minutus by Ekaterina Chernetsova (Papchinskaya)

Indian birds -Image of Little gull - Hydrocoloeus minutus
3.Birds of India - Photo of Little gull - Hydrocoloeus minutus by Andrew Cannizzaro

Origin, geographical range and distribution

The little gull species are distributed in Europe, west and central Asia, Middle East, eastern Asia and western North America.

The breeding populations of little gull species are distributed in northern Scandinavia, Baltic countries, western Russia to eastern Russia, Kazakhstan, mongolia, northwest China, USA (Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio) and Canada (Ontario).

Wintering little gull populations occur in coastal region of western Europe, Mediterranean region, Middle East (Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey), Black Sea region, Caspian Sea region, Yellow Sea region of China and east coast of USA (from North Carolina to Maine).

Vagrant little gull occur in India, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Angola, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Cameroon, Gabon, Gambia, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Barbados, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Hong Kong and Japan.

The Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) of the little gull species in Egypt are Lake Burullus, Lake Manzala and Lake Maryut. The IBA in France are Littoral Augeron and Marais poitevin et baie de l'Aiguillon.

The IBA of the little gull species in Iran are Anzali Mordab complex, Lapoo - Zargmarz ab-bandans, South Caspian shore, from Astara to Gomishan, Seyed Mohalli, Zarin Kola and Larim Sara and Miankaleh Peninsula and Gorgan Bay.

Some of the IBA of these little gull species in Russia are Zelentsy islands, Zaonezh'ye, Sestroretsky Razliv, Rybinsk reservoir, Lake Lacha, Lake Ayke, Siverga lake, Peschanokoledinskaya, Lower Ob', Kurlady Lake, Dvuob'ye and Cher'omukhovo Lake.

The IBA of these gulls in Ukraine are Korotchenkivs'ki meadows, Tyligul's'kyj lyman, Syvash Bay, Kryva peninsula, Karkinits'ka and Dzharylgats'ka bays, Berezans'kyj lyman and Solonets Tuzly pond and Yagorlyts'ka and Tendrivs'ka Bays.

Ecosystem and habitat

These little gull species do not normally occur in forests. These species normally occur in altitudes from 0 to 100 meters. The artificial ecosystems of these gull species include water storage areas and waste water treatment areas.

The natural ecosystems of these gul species include intertidal saltmarshes, coastal marine lakes, freshwater lakes, sandy, rocky and pebble shoreline, shallow seas with macroalgal growth, coastal lagoons, swamps, rivers, streams and creeks.

Diet and feeding behavior

The diet of the little gull consists mainly of insects. Dragonflies, beetles, flies, grasshoppers, moths, winged insects, small fish and marine invertebrates are their primary food.

These little gull species are mainly insectivorous when breeding. The wintering birds may feed on small fish and marine invertebrates. They are gregarious species forming large flocks while foraging. They can hawk insects.

While flying above water the feeding method of these gulls is similar to marsh terns. They fly at constant height above water and suddenly dip down to snatch a prey from the surface. These gulls may also patter water and may hover briefly to pick the food.

Reproduction and breeding habits

The laying season of these little gull species in most of their range is late June. They breed as solitary scattered pairs and also in large colonies and mixed colonies. These species are monogamous.

The breeding sites of the little gull include margins of shallow freshwater and brackish lakes, river basins, marshes, swamps, coastal lagoons, sand banks and habitats with lush emergent or floating vegetation in muddy shallow waters.

The little gull nest is a shallow depression which may be lined with plant matter. The clutch may contain 2 to 6 pale buff colored eggs with large gray and brown splotches.

Migration and movement patterns

The little gull species are fully migratory birds.

Breeding gull populations are found in northern Scandinavia, Baltic countries, western Russia to eastern Russia. They arrive in their breeding grounds from late-April to late-May and leave for wintering in late July.

These little gull populations migrate to the Mediterranean, Black Sea and Caspian Sea coastlines, Atlantic coast of Europe and the north-west coast of the U.S.A for wintering. Some of the non-breeding gulls may summer in their wintering range.

Conservation and survival

The global population size of the little gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) is estimated to number 97,000 to 270,000 individual birds. The overall population trend of these gull species is reported to be increasing.

Throughout its range this gull species is reported to be common and locally very common. The generation length is 10.5 years. Its distribution size is about 34,000,000

Habitat degradation, loss of breeding sites, changes in hydrographic conditions, collision with offshore wind farms and marine pollution are the main threats that may endanger the survival of these gull species.

IUCN and CITES status

The little gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) does not approach the thresholds for being Vulnerable, either under the range size criterion, or under the population trend criterion or under the population size criterion.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has categorized and evaluated the gull species and has listed it as of "Least Concern". The CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) status is ‘Not Evaluated’ for little gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus).
Taxonomy and scientific classification of Hydrocoloeus minutus
Species:H. minutus
Binomial name:Hydrocoloeus minutus
IUCN status listing:
Least Concern
The little gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) are apparently close to Sabine's gull (Xema sabini) and Ross's gull (Rhodostethia rosea).
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1.Little gull image source: (cropped)
Image Author: Andrej Chudý | License: CC BY-SA 2.0 as on 7/18/17
2.Image source: (cropped)
Image Author: Ekaterina Chernetsova (Papchinskaya) | License: CC BY 2.0 as on 7/18/17
3.Image source: (cropped)
Image Author: Andrew Cannizzaro | License: CC BY 2.0 as on 7/18/17
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