RSPB
Skip navigation

Conservation status: Amber

The yellow-legged gull has only recently been recognised as a species in its own right, having previously been considered to be a race of herring gull. Adults have darker grey backs and wings than herring gulls, but are paler than lesser black-backed gulls. They have more black in the wing tips than herring gulls and smaller white 'mirrors'. The legs are bright yellow, there is a red ring around the eye and the bill is yellow with a large red spot. In non-breeding plumage, the head is less streaked and whiter than herring gulls. Juvenile yellow-legged gulls are very similar to juvenile lesser black-backed gulls, but tend to be whiter-headed and start to gain a grey 'saddle' on their backs quickly as they moult to first winter plumage. Immature birds gain adult-like characteristics as they mature over the course of five years with the legs turning yellow and dark grey feathers replacing the brown and black immature feathers.

Illustrations

Overview

Latin name

Larus michahellis

Family

Gulls (Laridae)

Where to see them

Yellow-legged gulls can be found on reservoirs, on rubbish tips, in fields, on coastal marshes and in large evening gull roosts on reservoirs and lakes. They are most often found among large gatherings of lesser black-backed gulls.

When to see them

A northward spread from the Mediterranean and an increased awareness among British birdwatchers of how to identify yellow-legged gulls means they are now a regular sight in many parts of Southern Britain. They can be found throughout the year in varying numbers, but there is a marked peak in numbers during late summer and autumn when both adults and immature birds disperse after nesting.

What they eat

Ominivorous - a scavenger.

Population

EuropeUK breeding*UK wintering*UK passage*
-1 pair1,100 birds-

Distribution

Worldwide
Breeds in North-West Africa, around the Mediterranean and along the coasts of south-west Europe.