Your Birding Month
Tips including five birds to find in December such as Brambling, Merlin and Crane
TO SUGGEST THAT gulls are like Marmite would imply that most people either love them or hate them. The truth, however, is that few people, even few birdwatchers, actually love gulls. And the rest couldn’t care less about gulls or, in many birdwatchers’ cases, feel a bit intimidated by their perceived ‘difficulty’. So, perhaps gulls are a bit like Vegemite, the less strong, less extremely flavoured, watered down Australian equivalent of Marmite.
For those who have let gulls into their lives, however, the rewards are potentially many and satisfying. But, even those who remain a bit ambivalent about them can’t deny the attraction of the ‘white-wingers’. Glaucous and Iceland Gulls are northern birds, and correspondingly reveal their Arctic and sub-arctic origins by dressing themselves in snowy plumage, shunning dark pigments. This immediately makes them distinctive (which is always good), but their scarcity also provides them with a bit of extra desirability.
Both species have similar plumages and are largely distinguished based on size and structure. Glaucous Gulls are big and mean-looking, bigger even than Herring Gulls and closer to Great Black-backed Gulls. Iceland Gulls are smaller (smaller than Herring Gulls), with long wings and short bills which give them an almost Common Gull-like ‘face’.
As a rule, across the UK, fully adult Iceland Gulls (as well as Glaucous Gulls) are much less frequently encountered than juvenile/first-winter birds and second-winters. Both these age groups are shades of cream and buff, varying to pretty clean white, depending on wear. First-winter birds (like the bird pictured) have dark eyes and darker bills. Second-winters have pale eyes and more pale-blue grey in the bill.
Though commoner in the north of country, such as the Northern Isles, Iceland Gulls are just the sort of bird that make braving the worst winter weather to hang out for a few hours at a hideous municipal tip all worthwhile.