Lesser Black-backed Gull

Larus fuscus (Linnaeus, 1758) LB LBBGU 5910
Family: Charadriiformes > Laridae

Lesser Black-backed Gull, Steve Willis

The Lesser Black-backed Gull, with its dark grey back and yellow legs, is as much at home in our towns and cities as it is along our wilder coast.

During the summer months the Lesser Black-backed Gull breeds in colonies on windswept, low-lying coastal islands but it also breeds on the flat roofs of city-centre buildings and industrial units.

Part of our breeding population heads south during the autumn to winter around the coasts of southern Spain, Portugal and north and west Africa. BTO research has demonstrated that the artificial reefs of offshore wind farms may have a positive effect on Lesser Black-backed Gull, providing them with new feeding opportunities.

Identification

Lesser Black-backed Gull identification is sometimes difficult. The following article may help when identifying Lesser Black-backed Gull.

related video

Identifying adult black-backed gulls

On paper Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls are straightforward to separate but, in reality, many of us struggle - especially as the light conditions can alter their colour and size is not always apparent. Watch our video to tell these two species apart, as well as differentiate them from Herring Gull.

SONGS AND CALLS

Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Lesser Black-backed Gull, provided by xeno-canto contributors.

Call

Song

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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.

CONSERVATION STATUS

This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.

POPULATION SIZE

POPULATION CHANGE

The population of Lesser black-backed Gulls increased considerably between the 1969–70 Census and Seabird 2000 (1998–2002) with the number of coastal nesting pairs almost doubling (JNCC 2022 or link to website). The full extent of this increase is unclear as inland nesting birds were not counted consistently prior to Seabird 2000, but Atlas data show that significant range increases in inland areas have occurred, suggesting that population increases have also occurred across inland colonies which are usually on rooftops. However, annual monitoring shows that substantial declines have occurred at coastal colonies since Seabird 2000 and, although increases appear to have continued at inland colonies, it is unclear how far these go towards compensating for the declines in coastal areas. The results from the Seabirds Count (2015–2021) are expected to help clarify the recent trend, although they are likely to remain subject to some uncertainty due to the difficulty in accurately counting gulls nesting on rooftops.

DISTRIBUTION

As a breeding species, Lesser Black-backed Gulls are mostly coastal but an increasing tendency to nest on rooftops is allowing them to spread inland. In winter they can be found around the coast of Britain and Ireland, in the southeast interior of Ireland and throughout the lowlands of Britain.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Relative frequency by habitat

Relative occurrence in different habitat types during the breeding season.

>Bar of similar size indicate the species is equally likely to be recorded in those habitats

DISTRIBUTION CHANGE

Since the 1980s there has been a major winter range expansion and population increase, with gains particularly notable in Ireland, where there has been a 55% expansion in range, and in Wales, southwest England and East Anglia as well as in Scotland.

Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK

SEASONALITY

Lesser Black-backed Gulls are recorded throughout the year, though more often in the breeding season.

Weekly occurence of Lesser Black-backed Gull from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.

Movement

Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.

RINGING RECOVERIES

View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Lesser Black-backed Gull ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)

Biology

Lifecycle and body size information about Lesser Black-backed Gull, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.

PRODUCTIVITY & NESTING

SURVIVAL & LONGEVITY

View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report

BIOMETRICS

Feather measurements and photos on featherbase

CODES & CLASSIFICATION

For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Farspag-bheag
Welsh: Gwylan Gefnddu Fach
Catalan: gavià fosc
Czech: racek žlutonohý
Danish: Sildemåge
Dutch: Kleine Mantelmeeuw
Estonian: tõmmukajakas
Finnish: selkälokki
French: Goéland brun
German: Heringsmöwe
Hungarian: heringsirály
Icelandic: Sílamáfur
Irish: Droimneach Beag
Italian: Zafferano
Latvian: rengu kaija
Lithuanian: silkinis kiras
Norwegian: Sildemåke
Polish: mewa zóltonoga
Portuguese: gaivota-da-asa-escura
Slovak: cajka tmavá
Slovenian: rjavi galeb
Spanish: Gaviota sombría
Swedish: silltrut

Research

Interpretation and scientific publications about Lesser Black-backed Gull from BTO scientists.

CAUSES AND SOLUTIONS

Causes of change

The main drivers of the population changes were reviewed by Ross-Smith et al. (2014). They suggest that the growth population growth in the second half of the twentieth century was caused by several factors including better legal protection and their ability to adapt to new feeding opportunties (fisheries discards and anthropogenic sources of food) and to make use of urban sites which are largely predator free. Recent declines particularly at rural and coastal colonies are associated with reduced breeding success resulting from reduced feeding opportunties due to closure of landfill sites and a reduction in fisheries discards.

PUBLICATIONS (12)

Research Reports
BTO Research Report 738 cover

Assessing movements of Lesser Black-backed Gulls using GPS tracking devices in relation to the Walney Extension and Burbo Bank Extension Offshore Wind Farms

2021 | Clewley, G.D., Thaxter, C.B., Humphreys, E.M., Scragg, E.S., Bowgen, K.M., Bouten, W., Masden, E.A. & Burton, N.H.K.

Offshore wind farm developments form a major part of the UK government’s commitment to obtain 15% of the UK’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. However, there is concern over the potential detrimental effects that offshore developments may have on bird populations.

Research Reports

Assessing the habitat use of Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Larus fuscus) from the Bowland Fells SPA - ANNEX 1 - 2017 update

2018 | Gary D Clewley, Emily E Scragg, Chris B Thaxter, Niall H K Burton

This annex to BTO Research Report 694 (Clewley et al.

Research Reports
Tagged gull in flight by Katherine Booth Jones

Belfast’s urban gulls: an assessment of breeding populations, breeding season movements and winter population

2022 | Booth Jones, K., Thaxter, C., Clewley, G., Wolsey, S., Calbrade, N., Atkinson, P., Calladine, J. & Burton, N.

Peer-reviewed papers

Contrasting effects of GPS device and harness attachment on adult survival of Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus and Great Skuas Stercorarius skua

2016 | Thaxter, C.B., Ross-Smith, V.H., Clark, J.A., Clark, N.A., Conway, G.J., Masden, E.A., Wade, H.M., Leat, E.H.K., Gear, S.C., Marsh, M., Booth, C., Furness, R.W., Votier, S.C. & Burton, N.H.K.Ibis

Peer-reviewed papers
Lesser Black-backed Gull tagging, Gary Clewley/BTO

Daily, seasonal and annual variation in area use of Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Larus fuscus) related to offshore renewable developments

2023 | Clewley, G.D., Thaxter, C., Scragg, E.S., Masden, E.A., Barber, L.J., Conway, G., Clark, N.A. & Burton, N.H.K.Bird Study

Peer-reviewed papers
Lesser Black-backed Gull - Edmund Fellowes

Dodging the blades: new insights into three-dimensional space use of offshore wind farms by lesser black-backed gulls Larus fuscus

Dodging the blades: gulls and wind farms

2018 | Thaxter, C.B., Ross-Smith, V.H., Bouten, W., Masden, E.A., Clark, N.A., Conway, G.J., Barber, L., Clewley, G.D. & Burton, N.H.K.Marine Ecology Progress Series

Initial findings suggest that Lesser Black-backed Gulls in north-west England fly within wind farms, but may avoid wind turbines once there.

Links to more information from ConservationEvidence.com

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