African Gulls

Excluding Yellow-legged Gulls

17th April 2001: launched with photographs of Sooty Gulls and a Caspian Gull from Malindi, Kenya in August 1995.

2nd June 2001: added photographs of Slender-billed Gulls and Grey-headed Gulls from Gambia in August 1999.

10th November 2001: added photographs of Baltic Gull and Black-headed Gulls from Luxor, Egypt in February 2001.

5th November 2002: added more photographs of Grey-headed Gull from Gambia in 1999 including three shots of a juvenile.

25th June 2003: added photographs of Laughing Gull (second for Canaries) from La Palma in April 2003.

10th July 2004: added photographs of Black-headed Gull and Slender-billed Gull from Sharm el Sheik, Egypt in April 2004.

25thAugust 2004: added photographs of Heuglin's Gull and Caspian Gull from Sharm el Sheik, Egypt in April 2004.

30th December 2004: added photographs of White-eyed Gull from Sharm el Sheik, Egypt in April 2004.

3rd February 2006: added photographs of Sooty Gull from Watamu, Kenya, in August 2004 with comments on another visit in August 2005.

Laughing Gull Larus atricilla

Summer-plumaged adult at La Palma, Canaries, 19 and 22 April 2003. Second record for the Canaries of this species, accepted by the Spanish Rarities Committee.

22 April 2003, Tazacorte, in flight

22 April 2003, Tazacorte, in flight

22 April 2003, Tazacorte, in flight

22 April 2003, Tazacorte, in flight

22 April 2003, Tazacorte, perched

19 April 2003, La Bombilla, in flight 

Dangling leg indicates it is the same bird as at Tazacorte

Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus

Luxor, Egypt, 20 February 2001

first-winter in flight group of adults and first-winters

Black-headed Gulls are monotypic so these are similar to those in Britain.

Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, 5 April 2004

First-summer 1 2 3 4

Pictures 1-3 show the bird swimming on the water; picture 4 shows the bird in flight. Note the bleached (almost adult-like) appearance of the mantle at rest presumably through over-wintering in a desert climate. Picture 4 confirms its age by showing the dark secondary bar and the dark leading edge on the inner wing. The bill unusually is all black. This bird was similar in size to nearby Slender-billed Gulls Larus genei and the possibility of it being Bonaparte's Gull Larus philadelphia is discounted. The open wing shown in picture 4, with its lack of a neat pattern, is another reason for discounting Bonaparte's Gull. Two first-summers of this species were present from 5-10 April.

Slender-billed Gull Larus genei

Gambia, 8-13 August 1999


In flight 1 In flight 2

Sharm el Sheik, Egypt

First-summer 5 April 2004 1 2 3 4 10 April 2004 1

For 5 April 2004, pictures 1-2 show the bird swimming on water; pictures 3-4 show the bird in flight. This bird is a first-summer as, although the mantle is superficially very pale and clean due to exposure to the sun in the desert, there is a prominent dark trailing edge to the wing and there is a tail bar. An adult would also have a much darker bill and legs. The bright yellow bill and legs are characteristic of first-summer birds. For 10 April 2004 another individual is shown with even more bleached appearance. Five first-summers of this species were present from 5-10 April.

Grey-headed Gull Larus cirrocephalus

Gambia, 7-10 August 1999


In flight 1   In flight 2   In flight 3  

Landing   In flight from below   In moult

Note: apparently P1 and P2 have both been shed, indicating start of primary moult

Adult walking, 10 Aug 1999

Gambia, 13-20 August 1999


Adult in flight, 13 Aug 1999

started primary moult with P1 missing

Adult landing, 13 August 1999   Adult paddling, 13 Aug 1999   Adult in flight, 16 Aug 1999  

Adult in flight, 19 Aug 1999   Adult in flight, 20 Aug 1999


Juvenile paddling, 13 Aug 1999

These three shots are all of the same juvenile. This was the only one seen. Over 300 adults were seen in the area around the Senegambia Hotel.

Juvenile in flight, 13 Aug 1999   Juvenile with wings open, 13 Aug 1999

Malindi, Kenya, 9-23 August 1995

An adult Grey-headed Gull flew S on 19th August. Not photographed.

Watamu Beach, Kenya, 21 August – 3 September 2005

A Grey-headed Gull, probably a first-summer, flew S on 2nd September. Not photographed.

Baltic Gull Larus fuscus fuscus

Luxor, Egypt, 21 February 2001


flight 1 flight 2

The elegant silhouette, dark mantle and location point to this form.

Heuglin's Gull Larus heuglini

Sharm el Sheik, Egypt 9-10 April 2004

In flight:   2 adults, one first-summer   adult 1   adult 2   adult 3  

The photographs are of rather distant birds moving up the gulf. Some steady passage NE was noted by this taxon from 8 April - 11 April with passage of 6 adults on 8 April, 11 (ten adults, one first-summer) on 9 April, two adults on 10 April and two adults on 11 April; total of 21 (20 adults, one first-summer). The adults were similar to Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus graellsii with a clean blue-grey mantle, quite dark but with marked contrast between the wing tip and the inner wing. The flight was elegant and buoyant, bearing some resemblance to Baltic Gull Larus fuscus fuscus. At least two adults show a medium-sized mirror on P10.

Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans


Malindi, Kenya, 15 August 1995

Walking 1 Walking 2

Originally thought to be a juvenile Great Black-headed Gull, this gull has been re-classified as a Caspian Gull. Great Black-headed Gulls arrive relatively late on their wintering grounds so an August record this far south looks unlikely. In addition the bird shows a small head, pencil-shaped bill with dark terminal half, small dark eye well forward in head and long, thin, even lanky, pale yellow legs. The outer primaries are still dark. The source "Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America" by Klaus Malling Olsen and Hans Larsson, Helm (2003) has been very useful in revising this identification.

Sharm el Sheik, Egypt 9 April 2004

In flight

A distant shot but the deep breast, slim head and long thin bill of even width are readily apparent. The same bird was also seen on 5 April 2004.

Great Black-headed Gull Larus ichthyaetus

Sharm el Sheik, Egypt 10 April 2004

One first-summer flew NE, not photographed.

Sooty Gull Larus hemprichii

Malindi, Kenya, 9-23 August 1995


At rest   In flight 1   In flight 2   Two in flight 3

Breeding (summer) plumage and bare parts; tips of inner primaries and secondaries are not worn. Laying dates are given as June - September (especially July) in Birds of Africa.


In flight

Note: remnants of tail band present; not in active wing moult.

First-summer/ Second-winter

At rest   Two in flight 1   In flight 2

One individual is completing primary moult (P9+P10 growing), another has shed the outer secondaries and yet another appears to have completed wing moult. The timing of the moult appears to be earlier than that given by Olsen & Larsson (2003) at p,56 where it is stated as March/April-October.

Adult and first-summer together

At rest   Standing 1   Standing 2

Numbers at Malindi were typically low with eight in the harbour on 11th August, one on the Nature Reserve on 15th August, six in the harbour on 16th August and three in the harbour on 20th August. On 12th August 400 Sooty Gulls were following fishing boats offshore and some came into Malindi harbour at 18:15 (dusk).

Watamu Beach, Kenya, 26 July-7 August 2004

Rather scarce in this visit with the only gathering of more than one of 13 on the reefs at low tide to the north of Watamu on 2nd August, when all the photographs were taken below. Of these 13, eight had appeared earlier the same morning inside the reef on sandbanks as the tide fell, along with 450 terns, mostly White-cheeked Tern Sterna repressa. Records of the other singles are given below. The 13 are thought to be all first-summer/second-winter. Although on two photographs the subterminal tail bands look fairly narrow (and hence potential second-summer/third-winter), it is likely that this feature varies and all the pictures of resting birds clearly show first-summer/second-winters with pale brown heads and no pale neck collars, as described in Malling & Larsson (2003) at p.56.

Habitat on reef to north 1 26 27

Flock of Sooty Gull at some distance. Terns are mostly White-cheeked Sterna repressa. Note in picture 5 the Caspian Tern Sterna caspia taking off on the left of the shot. 2 3 4 5 10 11 28 29 30 31 32

When like this, either resting on the sand or standing still, they look like dark waders. The gait is almost wader-like as well. 20 18 21 23 24 25

At rest: All three are first-summer/second-winter with long blue-grey bill and dark tip and dark brown plumage. 14 ; all three are first-summer/second-winter with long legs, giving almost a waderish feel 15 ; all three are first-summer/second-winter with long bill and dark brown plumage with apparently paler brown head. 17

In flight

Three first-summer/second-winter taking off with extensive black subterminal band on tail. All three are in heavy wing moult. The bird on the right is apparently missing P8 and some secondaries. The bird on the left also appears to be missing P8. Note the long slightly drooping bills. 6

In moult with P1-P7 new, P8 missing, P9-P10 old and large gaps in secondaries. Broad subterminal tail band. 9

Missing P8, very dark neck, head and upperwings, long lemon bill with dark tip. 7

Much narrower subterminal tail band, possibly second-summer/third-winter but ageing should not be done on tail band alone. Note long wings and long legs, reaching almost to end of tail in flight. 8

First-summer/second-winter with broad subterminal tail band, missing P8, primary tips showing to P7 with decreasing brightness from P1. 12

Both birds in flight are first-summer/second-winter, one on left is moulting outer primaries with P9 and P10 missing. Bird on right is missing P8. 13

The bird on the left is also shown in picture 13. This and the one above on the right are first-summer/second-winter but the lower one on the right may possibly be a second-summer/third-winter with its much thinner subterminal tail band. 16

The birds on the right and left have old P9 and P10; the one in the middle has a very broad subterminal tail band, much broader than that of the bird on the right. 22

Rather blurred but the birds on upper left and lower right show a characteristic wing angle with inner wing horizontal and outer wing deeply depressed. 19

Watamu Beach, Kenya, 21 August–3 September 2005

One Sooty Gull was on an island offshore on 22nd August and another flew N on 2nd September. At Malindi a first-summer/second-winter Sooty Gull flew S on 31st August. All were too distant to be photographed. Dale A Zimmerman, Donald A Turner & David J Pearson in Birds of Kenya & Northern Tanzania, Christopher Helm (2001) note that the species is scarce south of Malindi from June to September (at p.350).

White-eyed Gull Larus leucophthalmus

Sharm el Sheik, Egypt 5-10 April 2004

Each evening (from 16:00-17:00) on the Sinai peninsula, the White-eyed Gulls used to fly along the coast at Naama Bay, in an easterly direction, presumably to roost. Occasional birds were found in harbours during the daytime. Perched on the land they looked superficially like waders. The maximum number of birds seen was 60 on 8 April. All photographs are of birds in flight.

Nearly all birds seen were adults in breeding plumage. None were in moult. One second-summer is shown at the end of this section.

White-eyed Gulls have a characteristic jizz, being almost tern-like, with a a very rapid flight in small groups. Usually the flight is at low altitude, either close to the sea or following headlands closely. 1 2 3

The elegant structure of the species is shown in their flight silhouettes: 4

A very characteristic feature of this species is its long thin, slightly drooping, bill. The bill appears to be all dark at any distance. The dark solid hood in simmer plumage with white collar and the prominent white markings above the eye also stand out quite well. The plumage appears very dark against the light.

5 6 7 8 9 10

A second-summer bird is shown below. This shows a less-solid hood, a pale red bill and dark undertail. The legs are yellow and the markings above and below the eye are prominent. 11 12

Photographs: Nick Rossiter (nick.rossiter1 at

© Copyright Nick Rossiter 2001-2006.

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