Your Bird­ing Month

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

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.

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