Central Ohio is due for a Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus)

These stunning little birds are always something to look for among flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls, but picking one out of the crowd isn’t always easy! Below I’ve compiled a few photos to pour over with your favorite field guide in-hand to get geared up to find yourself a member of the worlds smallest gull species this winter.

Little Gull

Little Gull, Huron County, Ohio. (Not my photo!) See the original and others here at Jeff Schultz’s blog.

First, a couple of Bonaparte’s gulls. As with all gulls, the first step towards making a species ID is to correctly age the bird. Grab a field guide and confirm that this is an adult Bonaparte’s.

Boneparte's Gull - Hoover Res., Columbus, OH

Bonaparte’s Gull, Hoover Reservoir, Columbus, OH. 11 Jan 2009.

… and this, an 1st winter Bonaparte’s…

Bonaparte's Gull, Chroicocephalus philadelphia, 1st winter

San Luis Obispo Co., CA (not my photo!)

So how do Little Gulls compare? Lets start with the youngsters. VERY dark pattern on the upperparts that, once you get a good look at it, is quite a distinct from Bonaparte’s. HEAVY black on the primaries and upperwing, giving the bird a big, black, inverted “V” on each wing. Be sure to note which feather groups are black and which aren’t, and compare to Bonaparte’s. Also note the darker crown/nape and the light (instead of distinctly black) trailing edge of the wing on the young Little Gull below (versus the young Bonnaparte’s above).

Little in the middle, surrounded by Bonaparte’s. (Not my photo!)

Note some of these field marks can even be seen at rest, not to mention the size difference that is often apparent.

Now, if you’ve read this far, you no doubt know that adult Little Gulls show black underwings, a very useful field mark when trying to pick them out of huge flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls!

Ithaca, NY. 30 Jan 2008. Photo by Jay McGowan.

However, another important field mark, visible in flight and at rest, is the solid light gray upperwing with a white trailing edge and (slightly broader) white wingtip. In flight, this gives Little Gulls a very rounded-wingtip look, and at rest on the water makes the folded wingtips white, not black as in Bonaparte’s (also not the dusky/dark crown of Little Gull).

Little and Bonaparte's Gulls

Little between two Bonaparte’s Gulls. Note dark cap, white wingtips. (Not my photo!)

Lastly, beware of funky immature birds! Here’s a young (2nd year?) bird seen but a few feet off of shore in Ithaca, NY in April 2007. It showed dark gray, but not black underwings, a dark crown (this really is an excellent field mark to look for on candidate Little Gulls), and deceptively dark wingtips in flight and at rest (compare to adult little gulls above).

Little Gull

Ithaca, NY. Apr 2007. Photo by Ryan Douglas.

Little Gull

Ithaca, NY. Apr 2007. Photo by Ryan Douglas.

Ithaca, NY. Apr 2007. More photos here.

Finally, to see these birds in action, check out Jen Brumfield’s video of an adult Little Gull just off shore from Cleveland on 4 Jan 2012.

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2 Responses to Central Ohio is due for a Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus)

  1. drewweber says:

    I love looking for Little Gulls. They seem so hard to spot at first but as soon as your eye locks onto that dark underwing you wonder how you could have missed it!

  2. Paul Hurtado says:

    Today I found a 1st cycle bird on Hoover Reservoir, which dips into my “home” county (Franklin Co). I was stoked! I snapped a few decent pics from a distance, as did a few others, with Alex Hughes getting the best photos I’ve seen so far (first is mine, second is Alex’s):

    Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus)

    Little Gull

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