Though good numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls can often be found in the Draycote Water roost during the post-breeding dispersal period in late summer and early autumn there are usually comparatively few juveniles present. Birds do linger throughout the day and this season juveniles have been something of a feature. Individuals can often be found loafing on the pontoons and further opportunities for close study are provided by birds preoccupied with fish along the banks and shorelines.

YlG 2

The rather heavy, muscular build, long legs and long deep bill with a pronounced gonyedal angle on the lower mandible are evident in these photos taken during my first visit of the season on 28/07/16. Both birds have fairly whitish body plumage with coarse brown streaks across the breast and along the flank sides, a whitish head with a slight brown smudge around the eye and rather uniform upperparts comprising brown feathers with neat pale whitish fringes. The outer greater coverts (those closest to the carpal joint on the folded wing) are plain brown with neat pale fringes and pale notching is apparent on the inner greater coverts. This pattern is fairly typical though as ever with gulls it is somewhat variable. The tertials are also brown with neat pale fringes though some paler markings are visible towards the tips.


As it breeds earlier, Yellow-legged Gull wears earlier and moults earlier than its northern relatives.  Extensive abrasion is apparent on the  fringes  of the  upperparts of both birds and whilst moult timing varies, the confusion species breeding in the UK would not typically have begun scapular moult as shown by the individual in the photo below. The second generation scapulars of Yellow-legged Gull are rather pale feathers with a dark central shaft which broadens out in to an anchor shaped sub-terminal mark with a pale fringe.

YlG 1

On the 03/08/16 several birders were at Draycote, drawn by the continued presence of a Wood Sandpiper and Dave Hutton, Bob Hazel and I took the opportunity to scrutinise the juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls encountered over the course of the morning. Dave took a number of photos which, as ever, were superb and has kindly allowed me to reproduce some of them. All the features mentioned previously are well illustrated here.

YlG 4

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Draycote Water, photo by Dave Hutton

YlG 5

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Draycote Water, photo by Dave Hutton

In flight the inner primaries are typically darker than those of Herring Gull and paler than those of Lesser Black-backed Gull. The tail band is black and very neatly edged whilst the rest of the tail and upper tail coverts are white with sparse dark arrowhead markings. Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull will typically show much more extensive dark markings in the upper tail and this is perhaps the best identification feature. The secondaries are very dark and the pattern of the greater coverts, with plain centred outers and notched inners, is distinctive.

YlG Fly 1

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Draycote Water, photo by Dave Hutton

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull is typically much browner on the head and body, often shows an obviously smaller and slimmer bill and long narrow primaries.  The scapular fringes are slightly buff and less evenly narrow, many are often notched. This bird was photographed by Dave Hutton the same day and is somewhat atypical in that the bill is quite hefty, suggesting a large male.  Note also that it has already moulted a scapular but the feather fringes appear fairly fresh.


Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull, Draycote Water, photo by Dave Hutton

These birds show the extensively brown head and body plumage, large pale notches on the edges of the tertials and heavily barred greater coverts typical of juvenile Herring Gull.


 Juvenile Herring Gulls, photo by Martin Elliott

Thanks are due to Dave Hutton for kind permission to reproduce his excellent images and Martin Elliott for advice relating to all things larid. Any errors contained herein are mine alone.