Home | What's New | About Martin | Contact | Can I use these Images? | General Links |
 Gulls | Other Birds: Identification | Other Birds: Interesting/Unusual | Dragonflies | Butterflies | Other Wildlife | Scenics | Places
Gull Links |

UDATE: February 25, 2001: three new photos have been provided by Alan Wormington - scroll to the bottom of the page.

This first-basic Little Gull (Larus minutus), photographed by Alan Wormington in Florida in mid-January, has caused some controversy concerning its identity. Here's a scan of the only published photo (from a series of supplied photos) from the May 1979 American Birds magazine:

The apparent white crown, tiny bill, and extensive white in the folded primaries have lead to some speculation (proclaimation, even) that this is a Ross's Gull (Rhodostethia rosea).

Here's the spread wing of juvenile/first-basic Little Gull (LIGU; left) and Ross's Gull (ROGU: right) - by Martin Reid:

- on LIGU the outer web of P10 - P5 is dark from the tip to the coverts (sometimes P5 has a small break near the tip), but on ROGU the dark on the outer web reaches the tip on P10 - P8 only, with P7 having a short subterminal section where just the thin shaft is dark; this effect is repeated to a greater extent on P6, and P5 is virtually all-pale with a dark tip. Note also that the dark tips to these primaries on LIGU are thick on the outer web of each feather, yet thin on the inner web; the LIGU shown above is a juvenile, and during the winter, wear can cause the tips to lose the black on most of the inner web. On ROGU the black tip to each outer primary is more evenly thick, such that the tip normally remains black across both webs.

The consequences of this outer primary pattern on the folded wing is distinctive: LIGU always has an unbroken dark stripe along the outer half, from the wingtip to the primary coverts; the inner half varies, and on worn individuals much white is visible, usually creating a white saw-tooth effect that occupies half the width of the primaries (follow this link to see a standing juv. LIGU at Frode Falkenberg's site; other photos showing this saw-tooth pattern on LIGU are: 'Stokes Field Guide to Birds - Eastern Region', Page 195; 'The Complete Reference - Seabirds of the World' by Enticott and Tipling, page 181).
On ROGU a saw-tooth pattern can also be seen, but the white part is thinner (due to larger black primary tips) and occupies at best a quarter of the width of the primaries, and importantly, beyond the tertials there is at least one black primary tip that is isolated by white (due to the solid white area behind the tip of P6 and P5); often there are two isolated tips visible. In 'GULLS - a guide to identification', Peter Grant illustrated first-basic birds of both species in Fig. 34 ( page 118), and although his LIGU shows no "saw-tooth" pattern, it does show the unbroken, even black band along the entire folded wing; the ROGU next to it shows the isolated inner primary black tips. Below is a first-alternate ROGU by Tony Collinson, photographed in England in June 1994, courtesy of BIRDING WORLD magazine:

on this enlargement we can see that the tips of P5 and P6 are isolated from the rest of the black part of the folded primaries:

Thanks to Paul Archer for these images of a 1B ROGU from Galway, Ireland in January 2000:

For an example of a normal pattern, look here at FONT's web site. Follow this link to Cameron Eckert's juvenile ROGU, and you'll see that the dark tip of P5 is virtually isolated by two broad pale bands, even on this strongly-marked individual. There is always an exception to every rule, and perhaps this unusual juvenile ROGU at the Ujihara's site is one; in fact I find this a most odd bird, as the long, very pale legs are more like LIGU, and the tail does not appear to have much of a wedge shape - I am starting to tink that this is an unusual Little Gull - comments?

The apparent lack of a dark cap on the Florida bird is unusual, but not unheard-of, for LIGU; I refer you to photo 525 on page 128 of 'Seabirds of the World - a photographic guide' by Harrison - this shows a January 1B LIGU that appears to lack a dark cap (however the photograph is slightly overexposed - like the Florida image). The book referenced above by Enticott and Tipling also has a photo of a bird with a very faint cap (plate 5, page 181)

In the lone image of the Florida bird, there is a glint of sunlight on the bill, and it seems to be at the tip of the bill - which would make for an extremely short bill - perhaps too short even for ROGU? Here is an enlargement of the head (taken from the original smaller scan supplied by Andrew Kratter, thus much detail is lost in the process):

- I have added a white line pointing to where I think the tip of the bill might be; hopefully the original photograph will clarify this for us.

ROGU in all plumages normally shows a "neckline" effect; in summer this is formed by a thin black ring, while in winter there are traces of this ring (even in first-basic plumage) plus an abrupt change from white to pale gray where the ring would be on the neck (look again at Paul Archer's photos above, and follow this link to Frode Falkenberg's site for a first-basic ROGU in January). The Florida photograph is a bit overexposed, and it is possible that this is masking the neckline effect, but it is clear that no such neckline is apparent, nor is there any gray visible above the mantle.

On ROGU the tail is strongly wedge-shaped and has black restricted to the central retrices, with R5 and R6 lacking any black (and R3 almost so). LIGU has a squarish white tail with a black subterminal band, with the outer web of R6 white, often the whole of R6 completly lacks any black, and rarely R5 can also lack any black. Thus, the white sides to the tail in the Florida photo do not assist in identification; the shape of the tail appears more square-cut and LIGU-like; also it looks rather short - on ROGU the visible black would be at the tip of the central wedge, and thus closer to the primary tips (follow this link to the Ujihara's web site for an example).

In summary, I feel that the circumstances of this image (dark background, overexposed) combine to make this bird look unusual, but:
- the bill length/shape is not clearly discernable from this scanned image.
- the lack of a visible crown cap does not rule out LIGU, and could be caused by the overexposed image.
- the tail appears too short and square for ROGU, and the pattern is inconclusive.
- the lack of a neckline could be explained by the overexposed image, but the color-shift from pale gray to white seems to be at the mantle line rather than higher up the neck.
- the extensive white '"saw-tooth" pattern on the inner side of the primaries is better for LIGU than ROGU.
- the solid black wing panel from wingtip to coverts is normal for LIGU but exceptional for ROGU.
Conclusion:- the bird is a Little Gull.

Update: February 25, 2001: three new images of the Florida Little Gull: