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.
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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 Will Reshape the Range of the Little Gull

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Little Gull

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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