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Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008
By ROWAN HOOPER
Scientific name: Larus ridibundus
Description: A small gull, some 38 to 44 cm long, with a 94 to 105 cm wingspan. The wing has a white leading edge that can be seen in flight (see photo), and the primary wing feathers are tipped in black. Despite the English name, the head is chocolate brown, and the body is pale gray. In winter, the brown hood disappears, and only a dark vertical line remains. The bill and the legs are red. Juvenile birds are darker, with a black band on the tail. The chatter of this gull is often heard at the seaside, and it might have been more fun for the English name to be "laughing gull": that's what the scientific name means, and that's what it sounds like, with a "kree-ar" call. The black-headed gull is the prefectural bird of Tokyo.
Where to find them: From Hokkaido to Kyushu, in colonies on large reedbeds or marshes; on islands in lakes where they nest on the ground; and also around bogs, rivers, city parks and grasslands. They are often seen in large flocks beside or near the coast, although they do not stray far out to sea. But this is not strictly a "sea gull" (birders say "gull" rather than "sea gull"), and can be seen far inland. It also likes hanging out by sewage outlets.
Food: Fish, insects, worms, even grain. Black-headed gulls will also eat carrion, for example from roadkill, and scavenge from garbage heaps.
Special features: Black-headed gulls are sociable, squabbling birds, and have a huge range, occurring and breeding across Asia, Europe and south Greenland and Iceland. They often return to the same breeding site year after year. If adaptability is a marker of intelligence, then black-headed gulls seem quite intelligent: they are opportunistic, and will utilize any food source they happen to find, be it a rich source of insects, a muddy field full of worms, or waste grain scattered in fields. The female lays a clutch of three eggs, and incubates them for around 25 days. The young first fly when they are about 35 days old and take two years to mature. They are in no rush: one banded bird lived to over 32 years.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BIO-IMAGE NET