Photo: Jari Peltomaki/Vireo

Little Gull

Hydrocoloeus minutus

This smallest of the gulls is a fairly recent arrival in North America, having invaded from Europe during the 20th century. Although records of stragglers go back many decades, the species was first found nesting on this continent in 1962. Since then it has nested at several points around the Great Lakes and Hudson Bay. Single birds often associate with flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls, sometimes with terns.
Conservation status Still has a shaky hold in North America, with nesting attempts scattered and irregular. Population here might not be self-sustaining, probably supplemented by additional strays from Europe. The Little Gull invasion represents a natural experiment, one which may or may not succeed. Other birds must have crossed the Atlantic in this way in ages past.
Family Gulls and Terns
Habitat Lakes, bays. In summer mostly inland around low marshy areas near lakes, also fresh or brackish marshes close to coast. Winters along coast, concentrating at protected shallow estuaries, mudflats, beaches, fresh ponds close to shore.
This smallest of the gulls is a fairly recent arrival in North America, having invaded from Europe during the 20th century. Although records of stragglers go back many decades, the species was first found nesting on this continent in 1962. Since then it has nested at several points around the Great Lakes and Hudson Bay. Single birds often associate with flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls, sometimes with terns.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • juvenile (1st year)
  • adult, nonbreeding
Feeding Behavior

Often forages by flying rather slowly and low, dipping to surface of water or land to pick up items. May land on water to feed; sometimes wades in shallow water.


Eggs

2-3, sometimes 1-5. Olive to buff, marked with brown and gray. Incubation is by both sexes, 23-25 days. Young: Are tended and fed by both parents; may leave nest when a few days old, but remain in general area. Young capable of flight at 21-24 days, may leave nest area with parents but become independent soon thereafter.


Young

Are tended and fed by both parents; may leave nest when a few days old, but remain in general area. Young capable of flight at 21-24 days, may leave nest area with parents but become independent soon thereafter.

Diet

Mostly insects. During summer and migration feeds mostly on insects. Also eats brine shrimp and other crustaceans, small mollusks, spiders, marine worms, and some small fish.


Nesting

Breeds in colonies, those in North America usually small, sometimes isolated pairs. In courtship, 2 birds may walk around each other, heads tilted away, then go through ritualized preening or pecking at ground. Nest site is on ground near water. Nest (built by both sexes) is a shallow depression lined with grass, leaves, weeds; may be more built up if on wet ground.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Movements on this continent not known in detail. Primarily around Great Lakes in summer, on Atlantic Coast in winter, probably with some regular movement between these two areas. Scattered records for other parts of North America, at various seasons, mostly in winter. Those seen in west may come from Asia via Alaska, but Alaska records are almost nil.

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Migration

Movements on this continent not known in detail. Primarily around Great Lakes in summer, on Atlantic Coast in winter, probably with some regular movement between these two areas. Scattered records for other parts of North America, at various seasons, mostly in winter. Those seen in west may come from Asia via Alaska, but Alaska records are almost nil.

Songs and Calls
A soft kek-kek-kek-kek.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Gulls and Terns Gull-like Birds

Little Gull

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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